/ 16 January 2012

SA families safe after Italian cruise ship disaster

Two South African families who were on board the Costa Concordia cruise ship that half sank off the coast of Italy at the weekend are in good health after being evacuated safely off the doomed ship, which went down after striking a reef.

According to the Star newspaper on Monday, Faizal Agjee, his wife Nafeesa and their children Zaheera and Zahra were in the ship’s dining room when the vessel began to list. They made their way to a lifeboat which was found not to be functioning, jumped back onto the boat and eventually escaped the vessel by jumping onto the roof of another rescue boat.

While rescuers continue the search for passengers still missing at sea after the Costa Concordia ran aground, the cruise ship’s captain — who abandoned ship before everyone was evacuated — remains under arrest on charges of manslaughter.

A couple from Pretoria, Mike van Dijk and his wife, whose name is not yet known, were also rescued from the ship.

On Monday morning, rescue workers searched the half submerged hulk of the capsized Italian cruise ship for 14 people still missing on Monday, more than 48 hours after the huge vessel capsized, killing at least six and injuring more than 60.

Three people, a South Korean honeymoon couple and a member of the ship’s crew, were rescued on Sunday and police divers also recovered the bodies of two elderly men, still wearing emergency life jackets.

Sixth body
A sixth body, that of an adult male passenger, was found just before dawn on Monday, according to Italian television.

Nine passengers, one of them a young child, and five crew members were still unaccounted for from the disaster off Italy’s west coast.

The captain of the 114 500-tonne vessel was arrested on Saturday, accused of manslaughter and abandoning his ship before all of the more than 4 200 passengers and crew had been evacuated.

Francesco Schettino’s employers, Costa Crociere, said in a statement on Sunday that he appeared to have made “serious errors of judgment” and had brought the ship too close to shore, where it struck a rock that tore a large hole in the hull.

The disaster occurred when the ship struck a rock as dinner was being served on Friday night, triggering scenes of panic that witnesses said were like the film “Titanic” with passengers jostling to get on lifeboats and some leaping into the icy sea.

Unexplained delays
Passengers say there were unexplained delays in organising the evacuation of those on board and this had resulted in chaos.

The vast hulk of the 290m-long ship, half submerged and lying on its side, loomed over the little port of Giglio, an island in a maritime nature reserve off the Tuscan coast.

A large gash could be seen in its hull but salvage experts said its fuel tanks did not appear to have been damaged, lessening the danger of an oil spill in the pristine waters.

Paolo Tronca, a local fire department official, said the search would go on “for 24 hours a day as long as we have to”.

Investigators were working through evidence from the equivalent of the “black boxes” carried on aircraft to try to establish the precise sequence of events behind the disaster, which occurred in calm seas and clear weather.

Serious human error
Defence Minister Giampaolo Di Paola, a naval admiral, said the disaster did not appear to have been caused by natural or technical factors.

“In my estimation there was a serious human error, which had dramatic and tragic consequences,” he told RAI state television.

Operators Costa Crociere said Schettino appeared to have failed to follow standard emergency procedures.

“The route followed by the ship was too close to the coast and it seems that his decisions on the management of the emergency did not follow the procedures of Costa Crociere,” said the company.

Prosecutors accused Schettino, who has worked for Costa Crociere since 2002 and who was promoted to captain in 2006, of leaving the ship before the evacuation was complete.

Coastguard officials said he had refused to return to the vessel when asked to.

‘Undetected rocks’
Schettino has told Italian television that the ship hit rocks that were not marked on maps and were not detected by navigation systems. He said the accident occurred some 300m from shore.

Costa Crociere expressed “deep sorrow” for the disaster.

It said all crew had been properly trained in safety procedures and that the ship was fully equipped with life jackets, medical supplies and other safety equipment. — Reuters