The U.S. State Department estimates that 126 U.S. citizens were onboard the Costa Concordia at the time of its accident near the Tuscan island of Giglio on Friday night, according to the Associated Press.
The U.S. Embassy in Rome also issued a statement revising the number of Americans it had originally estimated as being onboard from 125 to 126. Both government entities said they have no reports of any injured Americans.
The Embassy tweeted this contact information for families and friends of those sailing on Costa Concordia: “Concerned American citizens should call +39 06 4674 1 to reach the Embassy's emergency response team for assistance...”
Three Survivors Found
Most of the 3,200 guests onboard the Costa Cruises’ vessel were Italian, French and German, but there were dozens of guests from other countries onboard as well -- including those from Argentina, Russia, Turkey, Chile, Portual, Colombia and elsewhere.
Most guests are now safely ashore in Giglio or on the Italian mainland; many are awaiting flights home today.
But throughout Saturday and into Sunday, emergency search teams went cabin to cabin – pounding on doors of those cabins not submerged in water.
Good news? Three survivors were located and rescued on Saturday night from the vessel. Two were a newly married couple from South Korea.
Both 29 years old, they were reported to be in good condition. Rescuers reached them hours after hearing voices coming from a cabin several decks down from where they were searching in the ship.
Seriously injured but also rescued was Manrico Gianpetroni, a senior crew member from Italy; he has leg injuries and is expected to be flown by air rescue to a hospital on the Italian mainland this morning.
Five people are now confirmed dead including two French guests and crew member from Peru. Two additional bodies were discovered inside the ship just hours ago. Still missing are 17 people.
Many survivors have called home and are beginning to recount harrowing tales of escape from the crippled ship. Here are a few links to some of those stories:
Wall Street Journal–Europe: http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052970204542404577160813462277668.html?mod=googlenews_wsj
News-Tribune in Tacoma, WA: http://www.thenewstribune.com/2012/01/14/1983664/wifes-phone-call-from-lifeboat.html
Seattle Times in Seattle, WA: http://seattletimes.nwsource.com/html/localnews/2017242910_cruiselocal15m.html
Captain Under Investigation
The ship's captain Francesco Schettino has been detained by local Italian authorities on suspicion of causing deaths, according to prosecutors. They claim he left the ship before the full evacuation of passengers and crew members was completed.
One Associated Press story includes comments from several passengers who were so incensed when they apparently saw him draped in a blanket and safely off the ship before the rescue was completed that they sought out reporters.
One of those guests, a policeman, said the behavior was inexcusable; this guest tried to help people as he could prior to his evacuation. Visit this link: http://hosted.ap.org/dynamic/stories/E/EU_ITALY_CRUISE_AGROUND?SITE=NHPOR&SECTION=HOME&TEMPLATE=DEFAULT
Ciro Ambrosio, the ship’s first officer, was also detained, according to Italian sources. When Costa’s U.S. PR office was asked on Saturday by Travel Agent about potential charges against the captain, the company said it had not yet heard from the main Costa office about this.
Carnival Corporation issued a statement on Saturday calling the accident “a terrible tragedy” and said it was deeply saddened and committing its full resources “to provide assistance and ensure that all guests and crew are looked after.” The company said it was working to fully understand the cause of what occurred.
“The safety of our guests and crew members remains the number one priority,” said the statement. Yet, as of Saturday night, many passengers – whose stories are now flowing into news media – said they were alive because they rescued themselves.
While safety experts say any emergency evacuation can be somewhat chaotic, even if handled properly, it appears that this evacuation effort lacked leadership early on and the multiple languages used onboard for myriad nationalities of the guests created further confusion.
Italian safety officials also say the ship failed to send a mayday to initiate an immediate rescue effort -- which lost valuable time and may have cost lives.
Passengers and crew publicly have stated that nothing was done onboard to inform them about what to do until the ship had listed so seriously that an evacuation via normal means was not possible on one side of the ship.
Some passengers said English instructions, when finally given, were difficult to hear due to the chaos and shouting of other guests.
Some guests went to their cabins, waiting for instructions. Others who were experienced cruisers grabbed coats, medication and lifejackets and headed up top.
Muster stations seemingly did not matter in this scenario; guests said they did not really know where to go. Passengers told the media they mustered themselves and some even lowered lifeboats that – due to the listing of the ship – did not work properly.
In scenes that eerily resembled post-accident eyewitness accounts from the Titanic, shich sank in the North Atlantic in 1912, lifeboats became stuck, people tugged or cut at the ropes to get them to operate, and some passengers raced from one side of the ship to the other to search for working lifeboats.
A few people jumped into the sea, according to eyewitness reports from rescued passengers.
Meeting SOLAS Requirements
Costa Concordia passengers said the line did not have a muster/lifeboat drill for passengers prior to departure or on Friday night.
Unlike many cruise lines that routinely operate a full-blown muster/lifeboat drill an hour or so prior to departure, Costa apparently had scheduled the lifeboat drill for late Saturday afternoon.
The International Convention for the Safety of Life at Sea (SOLAS), an international treaty which governs safety on ships, only requires ships like Costa Concordia to have a safety/lifeboat drill within 24 hours of sailing.
So while Costa’s procedure to hold a lifeboat drill on Saturday appears to be acceptable by law, from a feasibility standpoint some guests – particularly new cruisers -- may not have known exactly what to do and where to go at the time of the accident.
That said, European lines including Costa may embark guests at multiple ports along an itinerary; so embarkation procedures, at times, need to be adapted to accommodate that.
Interesting, the first version of the SOLAS was enacted in 1914 after the sinking of Titanic; that version of SOLAS described the number of lifeboats and other equipment required by ships to carry.
New versions of the treaty have been adopted over the years. Lessons learned from this accident and the findings of the post-accident safety investigation are likely to influence future versions of SOLAS requirements.
Stay tuned for additional updates here.