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3:28pm UK, Saturday January 14, 2012
Passengers and crew on a luxury cruise ship which ran aground off the Italian coast have described how people jumped for their lives into the sea.
Some passengers likened scenes on the blacked-out, sinking vessel to those on the Titanic and said people ran from restaurants as cutlery smashed all around them.
Others toppled down stairs as the ship tilted violently to one side while survivors clambered up rope ladders into helicopters.
Fabio Costa, who worked in a shop on the vessel, said a number of people were jumping into the sea to swim ashore and described the “panic” aboard.
He said: “We were all working and all of a sudden we felt the boat hitting something and everything just started to fall, all the glasses broke and everybody started to panic and run.
“We could only feel that the boat had hit something, we had no idea how serious it was until we got out and we looked through the window and we saw the water getting closer and closer.
“Everything happened really, really fast and we saw the water coming in.”
Mr Costa said that once the emergency alarm was set off people started to panic and rush to lifeboats.
“A lot of people were falling down the stairs and were hurt because things fell on them,” he said.
Our first thoughts go to the victims and we would like to express our condolences and our closeness to their families and friends. In this moment all our efforts are focused on the completion of the last emergency operations, besides providing assistance to the guests and the crew who were onboard.
Statement from Costa Cruises
“We just saw a huge rock, that was probably where the ship hit, and people were having huge trouble trying to get on the lifeboats,” he continued.
“So at that point we didn’t know what to do so it took hours for people to get off the ship.
“It was easier for people to jump into the sea because we were on the same level as that water so some people pretty much just decided to swim as they were not able to get on the lifeboats.”
Meanwhile the father of one British survivor told how his daughter climbed up a fire hose to escape as the ship started to sink.
Philip Metcalfe said: “I got a call at 3am and she mentioned a fire and that they had run aground.
“I think she had clambered, she had used a fire hose and she was picked up by a helicopter and she was taken to a military base in Tuscany.”
Passenger Mara Parmegiani, a journalist, told the ANSA news agency that “it was like a scene from the Titanic”.
Several passengers have claimed the crew failed to give instructions on how to evacuate. They said the evacuation drill was only scheduled for Saturday afternoon.
“It was so unorganised, our evacuation drill was scheduled for 5pm,” said Melissa Goduti, 28, of Wallingford, Connecticut.
“We had joked what if something had happened today.”
Deodato Ordona, a cabin steward, said orders were given to abandon ship after it ran aground.
Elderly passengers were crying, said Mr Ordona, adding that he and some others jumped into the sea and swam roughly 400 metres to reach land.
Survivor Christine Hammer, from Bonn, Germany, 65, said that she was eating her first course, an appetiser of squid, with husband Gert, when disaster struck.
“We heard a crash. Glasses and plates fell down and we went out of the dining room and we were told it wasn’t anything dangerous.”
She said the passengers were then instructed to put on life jackets and taken to the life rafts but were unable to board because the cruise liner was tilting so much.
The passengers were eventually rescued by one of several boats in the area that came to their aid, she said.
Ophelie Gondelle, 28, a French military officer from Marseille, said: “It was terrible. No one counted us, neither in the life boats or on land.”