Luxury liner drama - captain arrested
Rome - Italian media say authorities have arrested the captain of the luxury cruise ship that ran aground only a few hundred meters off the Tuscan island of Giglio late on Friday.
This amid witness reports of the chaos on board the Costa Concordia after it ran aground, with many describing it as scenes from the Titanic. There were 4 200 passengers and crew on board.
The ANSA news agency quoted a local prosecutor as saying that Italian Captain Francesco Schettino was taken into custody on Saturday after several hours of questioning.
Three bodies were recovered from the sea and authorities say at least 40 people remain missing nearly 24 hours after the incident.
Emergency operations halted as night fell on Saturday, after divers spent the day scouring the half-submerged cruise liner and the coast guard searched the surrounding waters.
Passengers who made it safely to land recounted the chaotic and terrifying evacuation.
One American passenger said the ship was tilting so quickly that the lifeboats could not be deployed.
A fellow traveller said that is when they decided to jump and swim to shore.
Many passengers on the Costa Concordia were tucking into a late dinner when they heard a bang followed by tremors that knocked glasses and crockery off tables and sent them crashing to the floor.
A message came over a loudspeaker ordering passengers to converge on the cruise liner's deck from where lifeboats were being lowered into the cold Mediterranean waters.
Some tried to return to their cabins to grab some belongings, including warmer clothing against the winter's chill, but were told there was not time do so. At one stage the lights went off.
"We had to wait for an hour and a half before we could leave the ship," Silvana Caddeo, told the ANSA news agency, adding that she also saw two young men dive into the water.
"I don't know if they managed to rescue them," she added.
Officials said they were investigating what had caused the ship to apparently veer off course and hit a shoal around two hours after it had left the Italian port of Civitavecchia on the start of a Mediterranean cruise.
The ship's owner, the Genoa-based Costa Crociere, described the incident as "a tragedy", and said it intended to fully co-operate with authorities to determine what had gone wrong.
Some shipping sector experts and observers, such as Rafaele Aiello, a chief executive officer of the SNAV ferry company, were quick to brand the accident as a "very serious human error".
"The officer who was at the controls of the Costa Concordia, veered too close to the coast, not following the route traced by the captain, or the nautical maps," probably causing a collision with submerged rocks, Aiello was quoted as saying by ANSA.
"These ships are a technological miracle, but their radars can only see things on the surface of the water ... not [submerged] shoals and rocks," Aiello said.
'Temple of fun'
Built in 2006, the €450m luxury vessel - it was equipped with five restaurants, more than a dozen bars and several swimming pools and jacuzzis - is described as a "floating temple of fun" on a Costa brochure.
But for the passengers - mostly Italian, German and French but also nationals from Japan, Brazil and Australia - the trip soon turned into a lethal nightmare.
"It was like a scene from the Titanic," Mara Parmegiani, a journalist and passenger on the ship told the ANSA news agency. She was referring to the famous passenger liner that sunk almost 100 years ago, on April 15, 1912.
Caddeo who was on the cruise with her husband, praised the "excellent" efforts made by the crew help passengers, but said that the evacuation operation had been conducted with "zero" organisation.
Other passengers also criticised the evacuation process with, one, Yuri Selvaggi, telling ANSA that some of the crew had "panicked".
"They were all shouting and were clearly not trained," another passenger, told television news channel Sky TG24 after she had been brought ashore to Porto Santo Stefano on the Tuscan mainland.
Costa, in a statement, defended the conduct of the crew, saying that evacuation procedures were "immediately" activated.
It added, however, that these had been "extremely difficult" to carry out due to "the ship's progressive inclination".
Coastguard official Emilio Del Santos said that while many passengers had "lamented the slowness with which the rescue had been carried out ... one must now understand whether this was really the case or whether it was determined by the fear of the moment".