Cruise ship sinks in Italy

3 die, many missing as luxury vessel hits sandbar off Tuscany coast

Passengers from an Italian cruise ship described people leaping into the sea or fighting over life jackets in panic after it ran aground, killing at least three people and leaving many unaccounted for.

like Titanic: A Carabinieri boat approaches the luxury cruise ship Costa Concordia that ran aground off the tiny Tuscan island of Giglio on Saturday. APAround 40 people were injured, two seriously, and rescuers were continuing the search for the missing after the 114,500-tonne Costa Concordia, with 4,229 passengers and crew, hit a sandbar near the island of Giglio off the coast of Tuscany on Friday evening.

Officials warned that figures were extremely uncertain because of confusion surrounding the rescue. Ennio Aquilini, head of the fire service rescue operation, said: “It could be 10, 20 up to 40 but I cannot give anything more precise. There is a possibility that no one is missing.”

Passengers had just sat down to dinner, a couple of hours after leaving the port of Civitavecchia near Rome, when  the disaster struck.

“It was complete panic. People were behaving like animals. We had to wait too long in the lifeboats,” said 47-year-old Patrizia Perilli.

Officials said rescue efforts were continuing on Saturday after a night-time operation involving helicopters, ships and lifeboats. The picturesque harbor of Porto Santo Stefano was lined with ambulances and green tents for the victims.

“We have about 40 men at work and we’re expecting specialist diving teams to arrive to check all the interior spaces of the ship,” said fire services spokesman Luca Cari.

Authorities said they had launched investigations and declined to comment on the possible causes of the accident. Coastguard spokesman Filippo Marini refused to speculate on the matter.

“End of the world”

Passengers said they were having dinner when a loud bang interrupted the piano player accompanying their evening meal and the ship was rocked by an impact which sent crockery flying across the room. “It seemed like the end of the world,” said 18-year-old student Lucrezia Ranchelli.

The ship, a vast floating resort with spas, theatres, swimming pools, a casino and discotheque, was carrying mainly Italian passengers, with some British, Germans and Russians. There were many elderly people and some in wheelchairs. The ship was built in 2004-2005 at a cost of 450 million euros at the Fincantieri Sestri shipyard in Italy.

The website of the ship’s operator, Genoa-based Costa Crociere, had apparently collapsed under the volume of searches but the company set up a helpline to answer public enquiries. Costa said it would cooperate fully with authorities. There was no word on the identities of casualties.

“We are going through the list of passengers at a reception centre that’s been set up but most of the passengers didn’t have their papers with them of course, so it’s been difficult to get full identification,” an official said.

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