ROME – A luxury cruise ship ran aground off the coast of Tuscany, gashing open the hull and forcing some 4,200 people aboard to evacuate aboard lifeboats to a nearby island early today. At least three were dead, the Italian coast guard said.
At least three bodies were recovered from the sea and at least three additional persons were feared dead, and helicopters were working to pluck to safety some 50 people still trapped aboard the badly listing Costa Concordia, said Coast Guard Cmdr. Francesco Paolillo.
Paolillo said it wasn’t immediately known if the dead were passengers or crew. It wasn’t clear how they died. The Italian news agency ANSA reported that some people had jumped overboard in the scramble to evacuate the ship, which had just begun a Mediterranean cruise.
The evacuees were taking refuge in schools, hotels and a church on the tiny Tuscan island of Giglio, a popular vacation isle about 18 miles off Italy’s central west coast.
ANSA quoted two Italian journalists who happened to be among the passengers taking the Mediterranean cruise as saying the accident happened during dinner hour.
“We were dining when the lights went out, and suddenly we heard a bang and the dishes fell to the floor,” ANSA quoted one of the journalist-passengers, Luciano Castro, as saying.
Paolillo said the exact dynamics of the accident were still unclear, but that the first alarm went off about 10:30 p.m., about three hours after the Concordia had begun its voyage from the port of Civitavecchia.
The coast guard official, speaking from the port captain’s office in the Tuscan port of Livorno, said the vessel “hit an obstacle” – it wasn’t clear if it might have hit a rocky reef in the waters off Giglio.