'Significant human error' blamed in cruise ship incident
Published Sunday, January 15, 2012 9:10PM EST
Marine authorities and the company responsible for a cruise liner that capsized off the west coast of Italy are blaming the ship's captain for making "errors in judgment" and abandoning the vessel before ensuring all passengers were safely evacuated.
Divers have recovered five bodies so far in the partially submerged Costa Concordia, which struck rocks or a reef off the small island of Giglio late Friday. The bodies of two elderly men still wearing their lifejackets were found Sunday.
There were 4,200 people on board the luxury liner. At least 15 passengers and crew are still missing.
The ship's Italian owner, Costa Crociera SpA, a subsidiary of U.S.-based Carnival Cruise lines, issued a statement late Sunday saying there appeared to be "significant human error" on the part of the captain, Francesco Schettino.
"While the investigation is ongoing, preliminary indications are that there may have been significant human error on the part of the ship's master, Captain Francesco Schettino, which resulted in these grave consequences," the statement said. "The route of the vessel appears to have been too close to the shore, and the captain's judgment in handling the emergency appears to have not followed standard Costa procedures."
Coast Guard officials and passengers said they spotted Schettino on land as the evacuation unfolded. Officers urged him to return to his ship and honour his duty to stay aboard until everyone was saved, but he ignored them, Coast Guard Cmdr. Francesco Paolillo said.
There are also allegations that Schettino was "showing off" by steering the cruise ship too close to shore.
The captain has been detained for suspected manslaughter and abandoning the sinking liner. According to the Italian navigation code, a captain who abandons a ship in danger can face up to 12 years in prison.
In an interview with an Italian television station, Schettino denied abandoning ship, saying he did everything he could to save lives. He also said the reef he struck was not marked on navigational maps.
Police divers have retrieved the black box that records the ship's navigational information.
The terrifying, chaotic escape from the cruise liner was straight out of a scene from "Titanic" for many of the passengers and crew, including Canadians Laurence and Andrea Davis.
As the ship capsized, passengers were being tossed around, knocking each other over and slamming into the walls, Laurence Davis told CTV News.
"People's limbs were breaking…It was just absolute pandemonium," he said.
All Canadians who were on the cruise are reported safe.
Many passengers complained the crew didn't give them good directions on how to evacuate and once the emergency became clear, delayed lowering the lifeboats until the ship was listing too heavily for many to be released.
Several other passengers said crew members told passengers for 45 minutes that there was a simple "technical problem" that had caused the lights to go off.
Passengers said they had never participated in an evacuation drill, although one had been scheduled for Saturday. The cruise began on Jan. 7.
Costa Crociera SpA defended the actions of its crew and said it was co-operating with the investigation. Carnival Corp. issued a statement expressing sympathy that didn't address the allegations of delayed evacuation.
France said two of the confirmed victims were Frenchmen; a Peruvian diplomat identified the third victim as Tomas Alberto Costilla Mendoza, 49, a crewman from Peru. Some 30 people were injured, at least two seriously.
The Philippine Department of Foreign Affairs said some 300 of the crew members were Filipinos and that three of them were injured.
Islanders on Giglio opened up their homes and businesses to accommodate the sudden rush of survivors.
Rossana Bafigi, who runs a newsstand, said she was really moved by the reaction of the passengers.
She showed a note left by one Italian family that said, "We want to repay you for the disturbance. Please call us, we took milk and biscuits for the children. Claudia."
With files from CTVNews.ca Staff and The Associated Press and a report from CTV's Ben O'Hara-Byrne