Crew, honeymooners rescued from Italy cruise disaster

Two South Korean honeymooners and an Italian crew member were rescued on Sunday from a cruise ship wreck on an Italian island as emergency services searched frantically for 17 people still missing.

Divers have also found two bodies in the sunken stern of the Costa Concordia, bringing the total number of confirmed deaths to five.

Rescuers said the search in the half-submerged ship was highly dangerous because the decks were at an almost 90-degree angle and there was a risk that the ship could slip off the rocks it had struck and sink altogether.

“We’ve rescued him!” a coast guard official said of the man, an Italian officer responsible for passenger security on the vessel, after rescuers spent hours trying to reach him after hearing his voice echoing in the monster ship.

The official said the rescued man had suffered a broken leg.

Fire crew chief Cosimo Pulito said: “He was in the tea room. He shouted with joy when we got to him. He just thanked us.”

Only a quarter of the ship searched
But Pulito said rescuers had only searched a quarter of the ship so far, including most of the area above water and some underwater parts.

“It’s unlikely there are any air pockets. Our divers have checked all of the outside of the ship and they believe there aren’t,” he said.

“We’ve started with where the highest probability is of finding people alive. We haven’t gone into the machine room yet,” he added.

“We will continue searching until we’ve done the whole ship.”

The Costa Concordia hit submerged rocks just off the island of Giglio late on Friday, with more than 4  200 people on board.

Chaotic evacuation
Two French passengers and one Peruvian crew member have been confirmed killed, apparently after jumping into the chilly Mediterranean waters with dozens of others in a chaotic evacuation.

Luca Carli said that the Italian had been stranded in the exposed part of the ship and said that the rescue was “very, very complicated”.

He said the South Korean honeymooners had been evacuated by helicopter and were in “perfect condition”.

“They were in their cabin, we still don’t understand why”, he added.

Daniele, one of around 20 army divers at the scene, said as he worked on his oxygen tanks in Giglio harbour: “We’ve just started searching in the submerged part of the ship. It will take a long time.”

Briefed on layout
“This is our job. We’re experts in recovering bodies from submarines and shipwrecks. We’ve been briefed on the layout of the ship and all the cabin doors can be opened with a hydraulic mechanism,” he said.

Enrico Rossi, governor of the Tuscany region, told reporters at the scene: “There are still six crew members missing and 11 passengers.”

“We’ll see if we can’t bring that down to zero during the day,” he said.

Earlier reports had put the number of missing in the dozens. Officials explained that this was because they had been counted by different emergency agencies and because some people were not officially counted at all.

Rossi said he wanted new rules in place to avoid ships coming so close to the shore along the picturesque Tuscan coast and its archipelago.

‘Control systems’
“I want control systems in place along the shipping routes to avoid ships going off course,” he said, following reports that the cruise ship had been steaming past the island for show when the accident happened.

Investigators arrested the ship’s captain on Saturday and were to begin analysing the black box recovered by rescuers, which logged all of the 291-metre long ship’s movements as well as conversations between personnel.

The captain, Francesco Schettino, told Italian news channel TGCOM that the ship hit a rock that was not on the charts and that he had tried to save as many people as possible.

First officer Ciro Ambrosio was also arrested, local prosecutors said.

Italian media said the two face possible charges of multiple homicide and abandoning the ship before all the passengers were rescued.

‘Like the Titanic
The captain “approached Giglio Island in a very awkward way, hit a rock that stuck into its left side, making [the boat] list and take on a huge amount of water in the space of two or three minutes”, a prosecutor told reporters.

Island residents also said the ship was sailing far too close to Giglio and had hit an underwater rocky reef that was well known to inhabitants of this hilly outcrop, which has a population of just 800.

Rescuers said they plucked 100 people from the sea overnight after some of the lifeboats on board failed to function or could not descend to the water from a ship that was already badly listing.

About 60 people who had not managed to escape in lifeboats were rescued from the vessel itself, including one passenger with a broken leg.

Some crew members familiar with the layout of the ship were helping divers negotiate their way around the Italian-built liner’s 1 500 cabins.

Survivors from around the world — many with bloodshot eyes and draped in blankets in Giglio harbour — spoke on Saturday of scenes “like the Titanic” on board and said they were not properly informed about the evacuation.

Frustration over lack of information
Some of them were in evening wear as they had just been settling down to dinner on board when the accident happened. There were also bar and restaurant staff in crimson blazers and kitchen staff in white smocks.

Officials said all the survivors had been taken off the island on Saturday to nearby Porto Santo Stefano and then on to other parts of Italy or back home.

The people on board included some 60 nationalities — nearly a third of the passengers were Italian, followed by Germans and French.

Foreign diplomats privately expressed frustration over a lack of information about their citizens and on the handling of the ship’s evacuation.

At least 42 people were injured, including two seriously — a woman with a blow to the head and a man struck in the spine, medical sources said.

Most of those hospitalised had suffered broken limbs or had hypothermia.

The disaster happened just hours after the ship had left the port of Civitavecchia near Rome at the start of a Mediterranean cruise that was meant to take it to Savona in northwest Italy and then on to Marseille and Barcelona.

The Genoa-based owner of the ship, Costa Crociere, is Europe’s biggest cruise operator, with a turnover of $3.7-billion in 2010. –AFP

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Dario Thuburn
Dario Thuburn
Scribbler for AFP news agency

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