On the same day Standard & Poor’s downgraded its credit rating, Italy found itself dealing with a more human crisis: The sinking of a massive cruise ship off its western coast. The vessel, the Costa Concordia, ran aground and sank Friday evening, killing at least five people. According to various media reports, as many as 30 Costa Concordia passengers have been injured, while another 15 are unaccounted for.
The death toll for the Costa Concordia cruise ship disaster so far includes two French passengers and a Peruvian crew member. The bodies of two elderly men who have yet to be identified were recovered today from a flooded area of the partially submerged vessel, according to a report from the BBC.
On Saturday, divers scouring the ship were able to locate two survivors, a South Korean couple on their honeymoon, who were trapped in an unsubmerged section of the liner, after hearing their screams. According to the Voice of America news service, a third survivor, a crew member, was rescued Sunday, 36 hours after the incident. He was hospitalized with a broken leg.
The Costa Concordia hit a sandbar on Friday evening near the Tuscan island of Giglio, as many of the vessel’s 3,200 passengers were sitting down to dinner. The collision left a 160-foot gash in the hull of the vessel, allowing seawater to rush into the ship. Only two hours prior, the Concordia had left the Italian port of Civitavecchia near Rome on a week-long cruise to Barcelona and Majorca.
According to a Reuters report, passengers reported hearing a loud bang, and the 6-yea-old ship began to list.
“We heard a loud rumble, the glasses and plates fell from the tables, the ship tilted and the lights went off,” passenger Luciano Castro told Reuters.
Passengers said they had been given little or no information in the immediate aftermath of the ship running aground. It was 20 minutes later that passengers were told that “there was a problem with the electricity that they were trying to fix,” Castro said.
Another Passenger, Vivian Shafer, told CNN that after it became clear the vessel was in trouble, she and her traveling companion heard announcements regarding lifeboats and muster stations, causing them to leave their cabin to investigate.
“We peeked around the corner to kind of see what people were doing … and my gosh, people were actually getting in a lifeboat,” Shafer said.
The crew, apparently as panicked as passengers, appeared overwhelmed, Shafer said.
“There wasn’t anybody to help you,” Shafer said. “I mean, the passengers were loading the lifeboats by themselves.”
Yesterday, Italian law enforcement officials announced that the Concordia’s captain and first officer had been detained on suspicion of manslaughter and abandoning ship. According to a report from The Daily Mail, Captain Francesco Schettino was at least four miles off course when the Concordia ran aground. One passenger told The Sun Telegraph that Schettino was drinking in one of the ship’s bars on the night the vessel ran aground, before taking control after the crash.
“What scandalized me most was when I saw the captain spending much of the evening before we hit the rocks drinking in the bar with a beautiful woman on his arm,” Monique Maure of the Netherlands said.
Phil Metcalf of the U.K., whose daughter was aboard, told the BBC she reported that Schettino had left the ship before all of the passengers or crew had been evacuated.
“Since the captain had left there was nobody, so everybody was left to their own devices hence some of the chaos, so obviously the crew took it upon themselves and decided in the absence of the captain to organize and try and help people,” Metcalf said.
A French couple also told the Associated Press that they saw the captain in a lifeboat, covered by a blanket, well before all the passengers were off the ship.
For his part, Schettino has told Italian authorities that navigational charts indicated the sea were the ship ran aground was deep enough, but that the vessel hit stretch of rock that was not marked on the charts, The Daily Mail said. He also insisted that he and his first officer were among the last to leave the ship.
In Italy, suspects can be held without charge for a few days for investigation, The Daily Mail said. Late this week, a judge will decide whether to declare Schettino arrested or let him go free.
Concordia passengers have also told various media outlets that they had never participated in an evacuation drill, although one had been scheduled for the next day.
Miami-based Carnival Corp., which owns Costa Crociera SpA, issued a statement expressing its sympathy, but didn’t address the allegations of delayed evacuation, the Associated Press said.