Answers urgently needed into Italian cruise ship sinking tragedy

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Answers urgently needed into Italian cruise ship sinking tragedy

16th January 2012

An expert in travel incidents has stressed the need for an urgent inquiry into how an Italian cruise ship ran aground and began to sink off the coast of Italy on Friday.

Holidaymakers from Britain, France, Italy and Germany were forced to evacuate the ‘Costa Concordia,’ a £372m, 1,500-cabin luxury cruise ship when it hit rocks and began taking on water near the island of Giglio off the Tuscan coast. At least six people are known to have lost their lives in the tragedy.

Katherine Allen, head of the Travel and International Litigation department at Fentons Solicitors LLP, said: “Urgent lessons need to be learnt by the entire industry from this tragic event and it is now paramount that the Italian authorities waste no time at all in establishing exactly how a vessel of this size and calibre, equipped with state-of-the-art technology, was able to run aground in such well-charted waters.”

Less than three hours after setting sail from Civitavecchia, near Rome on Friday night with over 3,200 passengers on board, crew members signalled an electrical fault to port authorities. At around 10:30pm, passengers, who were having dinner at the time, reported hearing a loud explosion before plates and glasses started smashing to the floor and the ship began to tilt and take on water.

“Passenger accounts of what happened next paint a truly terrifying picture of what was supposed to be a relaxing first night at sea,” said Katherine, a partner at the firm. “Many people have complained of the numerous misleading announcements they were given, how they were initially told there was nothing to worry about, how no safety drill had been given and how many hadn’t even been told where their emergency muster stations were located.

“As the ship started listing heavily to starboard, almost half the vessel became submerged rendering many of the lifeboats useless,” added Katherine. “Many passengers have said the evacuation was complete chaos with widespread panic and people scrambling and fighting between themselves to access lifeboats which crew members were blocking access to. Survivors have described being kept waiting on crowded decks and having to scream at crew members to release lifeboats before they too became inoperable, while others report being suspended in boats left dangling in mid-air for more than 45 minutes.”

Amid scenes of total panic and confusion, passengers reported icy water creeping up the sides of the ship, decks slipping underwater and people left with no other option than to leap into the freezing water below or lower themselves by rope to safety. Others report having to crawl on all fours up near-vertical corridors in pitch blackness while some describe not seeing any crew members for hours and being left stranded on lower decks - cold, traumatised and dressed only in evening wear awaiting rescue.

Divers are continuing to search the stricken vessel which is currently lying on its side 18 miles off the coast of Tuscany with a 50m long gash in its port-side hull. Three survivors have been found, 15 passengers remain unaccounted for while at least six people have been confirmed dead. The 52-year-old captain, who denies wrongdoing including abandoning his ship before evacuation procedures were complete, has been arrested along with his first officer on suspicion of manslaughter.

“Early analysis indicates power loss is likely to have been a key factor in the incident,” said Katherine. “It is now imperative investigators ascertain where the apparent explosion passengers report hearing was located, how much a part human error played in the incident and why back-up systems failed to provide power in sufficient time.

“This incident should serve as a ‘wake-up call’ for the entire cruise industry, added Katherine. “As we await the results of the vital investigation, our thoughts are with those who have lost their loved ones in this tragic event.”

How can Fentons help?

Fentons has a specialist department experienced in handling claims relating to holiday accidents and illness. If you think that you have a case or require further information, contact Fentons on 0800 019 1297 or fill in the online claims questionnaire.

Read more: BBC