|Photo by Susan J. Young|
In a tragic accident off the coast of Tuscany on Friday night, Costa Concordia apparently struck a submerged rock. Approximately 3,200 passengers and 1,000 crew were onboard the 120,000-ton ship at the time of the evening accident.
UPDATE: Emergency officials and international media, including BBC (www.bbc.co.uk) report that 11 are confirmed dead and dozens are injured.
Most Costa Concordia guests, however, were evacuated safely -- after what some survivors are publicly describing as a "chaotic" situation onboard -- to the Italian island of Giglio by boat and helicopter. The Italian Coast Guard and others from Giglio aided in the rescue.
Dramatic photos taken Saturday morning by national and international media including CNN (www.cnn.com) show the ship lying on its side in the water. Divers were continuing the search for the missing on Saturday morning.
It can be difficult for emergency officials and cruise lines to provide accurate passenger totals when guests are rescued individually or in small groups and then whisked to public buildings, churches, personal residences or hospitals without immediate knowledge of their location by authorities; thus, it may take a few days for an accurate head count.
In an early press statement, Costa had said early on that while the evacuation of guests began promptly, the ship’s position made that effort difficult.
Rescued guests told the media that the lights went out onboard several times, that it was difficult to understand the safety instructions in English, and that the situation was chaotic as lifeboats on one side of the ship were inoperable given the ship's severe list. Reportedly, a few people jumped into the sea.
At the time of the accident, Costa Concordia had just set sail from Civitavecchia (the port for Rome) and was headed to the Italian port of Savona. Launched in 2006, this ship has modern systems and navigational technology.
In a mid-day Saturday statement, "I want to express our deep sorrow for this terrible tragedy,” said Gianni Onorato, president of Costa Crociere. “I am only now able to speak on behalf of Costa because, as you will understand, I have been at Isola del Giglio to be close to the rescue operations.
“First, I would like to thank all the authorities, law enforcement and volunteers who provided assistance to our guests and crew involved in this terrible event," Onorato said.
He said Costa is not able to answer all the immediate questions that the media and public have because authorities are trying with Costa's cooperation to understand the reasons for the incident.
“On the basis of the initial evidence — still preliminary — Costa Concordia, under the command of Master Francesco Schettino, was sailing its regularly scheduled itinerary from Civitavecchia to Savona, Italy, when the ship struck a submerged rock," Onorato said.
“Captain Schettino, who was on the bridge at the time, immediately understood the severity of the situation and performed a maneuver intended to protect both guests and crew, and initiated security procedures to prepare for an eventual ship evacuation." He said the operation was complicated by the sudden tilt of the vessel that made disembarkation difficult.
“Thanks to the commitment of the agencies coordinated by the Coast Guard, rescue operations have been continuing," Onorato said. "“From the moment we were alerted, Costa mobilized all its resources ashore to assist our guests and crewmembers, and to prevent potential environmental impacts.”
Mid-day on Saturday, industry condolences and comments for Costa Concordia’s guests and crew as well as the line itself began to flow into media Web sites and Facebook pages.
Norwegian Cruise Line was among other lines expressing condolences and support on Facebook (www.facebook.com/norwegiancruiseline).
On Saturday, CruiseOne and Cruises Inc. sent this brief statement to Travel Agent: “While CruiseOne and Cruises Inc. did not have any clients who were passengers aboard Costa Concordia, we wish to express our deepest condolences to the families of those who were lost, as well as to Costa Cruises.”
Costa is now making arrangements to get rescued guests and crew members home. For most guests, that's in Europe.
The line is an Italian brand with an international guest mix. Emergency officials said the guests were mainly Italian, French and German. It's not known if any Americans were onboard.
Friends and families with loved ones who were sailing onboard Costa Concordia may contact the U.S. call center for information at 800-462-6782.
As the official safety investigation into the accident began Saturday, authorities began questioning the ship's captain.
One preliminary question, according to Emilio Del Santo, an officer of the Coastal Authorities of Livorno, is why the ship apparently did not send a mayday signal immediately as soon as the accident occurred.
CNN quotes Del Santo as saying the following: "At the moment we can't exclude that the ship had some kind of technical problem, and for this reason moved towards the coast in order to save the passengers, the crew and the ship. But they didn't send a mayday. The ship got in contact with us once the evacuation procedures were already ongoing," Del Santo said.
That and plenty of other facts related to the cruise will likely play out over a series of weeks and months as authorities investigate.
Costa is based in Italy with a U.S. sales and marketing operation in South Florida. It’s owned by Carnival Corporation.
Travel Agent will follow up with further updates as information becomes available.