Saturday, January 14, 2012

Luxury cruise ship off coast of Tuscany evacuates 4,200 people

 	The luxury cruise ship Costa Concordia leans after it ran aground off the coast of Isola del Giglio island, Italy, gashing open the hull and forcing some 4,200 people aboard to evacuate aboard lifeboats to the nearby Isola del Giglio island early Saturday, Jan. 14. About 1,000 Italian passengers were on board.

A luxury cruise ship ran aground off the coast of Tuscany, sending water pouring in through a 160-foot (50-meter) gash in the hull and forcing the evacuation of some 4,200 people from the listing vessel early Saturday, the Italian coast guard said.

Three bodies were recovered from the sea, said Coast Guard Cmdr. Francesco Paolillo. There were reports that three other people had died after the accident late Friday night near the tiny Tuscan island of Giglio, but those reports were not yet confirmed, he said.

Helicopters plucked to safety some 50 people who were trapped on the Costa Concordia after the liner listed so badly they couldn't launch lifeboats, Paolillo told The Associated Press in Rome by telephone from his command in the Tuscan port city of Livorno.

"We were having dinner aboard when we heard a loud noise, like that of the keel being dragged over something," passenger Luciano Castro, who is a journalist, told Italian state radio early Saturday. The lights went out "and there were scenes of panic, glasses falling to the floor," Castro said.

Another passenger on what was be an eight-day pleasure cruise around Mediterranean ports, Mara Parmegiani, also a journalist, told the ANSA news agency that "it was like a scene from the Titanic."

Survivor Christine Hammer, from Bonn, Germany, shivered near the harbor of Porto Santo Stefano, on the mainland, after stepping off a ferry from Giglio. She was wearing elegant dinner clothes — a cashmere sweater, a silk scarf — along with a large pair of hiking boots, which a kind islander gave her after she lost her shoes in the scramble to escape, along with her passport, credit cards and phone.

Hammer, 65, told The Associated Press that she was eating her first course, an appetizer of squid, on her first night aboard her first-ever cruise, which was a gift to her and her husband, Gert, from her local church where she volunteers.

Suddenly, "we heard a crash. Glasses and plates fell down and we went out of the dining room and we were told it wasn't anything dangerous," she said.

The passengers were instructed to put on life jackets and take to the life rafts but, Hammer said, they couldn't get into the boats, because the cruise liner was tilting so much the boats couldn't be lowered into the cold, night sea. The passengers were eventually rescued by one of several boats in the area that came to their aid. 

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