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Search Is On For Survivors Of Crashed Cruise Ship


The captain of the Italian cruise ship which ran aground off the coast of Tuscany last night has been arrested on suspicion of involuntary manslaughter. The majority of the ship's 4,000 passengers reached land by lifeboat, but three people are confirmed dead. About 30 are reportedly injured and some 50 are still unaccounted for. It is still unclear what caused the ship to come so close to the rocky shore.

NPR's Sylvia Poggioli is with us from Porto Santo Stefano where many of the passengers were first evacuated. And, Sylvia, what do we know about the arrest?

SYLVIA POGGIOLI, BYLINE: Not much yet, just that the captain is 52 years old and a veteran of the Costa shipping line. According to nautical regulations, this cruise ship was not supposed to sail closer than three or five nautical miles from the coast but apparently was just two to 300 - 200 to 300 yards from the coast of the island of Giglio when it hit a rocky reef. The captain is said to have then tried to steer the ship even closer to the shore to make the rescue easier. Now, keep in mind that this ship is huge. It carried more than 4,000 passengers and crew. It weighs more 115,000 metric tons. Ships like these are called floating villages. So it's really incomprehensible why it was sailing so close to a shore that I, for one, know to be surrounded by rocky reef. Even an official of the Costa shipping line said it was an incomprehensible tragedy.

RAZ: Yeah. I mean, what are investigators going to be looking into as they try to figure out what caused this?

POGGIOLI: Well, they'll look at everything, of course. But the sailors and fishermen who really know these waters whom I spoke to today already issued their verdict. They say the cause was human error. They told me that the computerized equipment and instruments on board these kinds of ships are very sophisticated and able to alter course according to the slightest difficulty.

RAZ: And what do we know about the people who are unaccounted for at this moment?

POGGIOLI: Well, they're saying there's maybe some 40 or 50 people who are unaccounted for. Now, it's not clear whether they're dead or whether they are simply part of the people who were not counted. There was so much disorganization here when the rescue effort was under way, both the island of Giglio first and then here in the town of Porto Santo Stefano where the passengers were evacuated.

Local people came out in full force to help - to bring food, clothes and shoes for the survivors. But as far as the officials, no one seemed to be in charge. Several passengers have been hospitalized in the town of Grosseto, which is not far from here, and we understand that most of the passengers have been taken by bus to more comfortable hotels in Rome and Genoa.

RAZ: I mean, we hear about cruise liners running aground now and again, but sinking is so unusual, particularly for Western European ships, and this apparently was a relatively new boat, a luxury cruise liner. Is there anybody sort of saying this is unprecedented?

POGGIOLI: From my understanding is this is the biggest passenger ship to have run aground like this. This is what they're saying. And, you know, then there's the lure of the sea also. It's a relatively new ship, but they say that when it was christened, the champagne bottle, when it was smashed against the ship, did not break. And according to sea lore, that means it was unlucky.

RAZ: That's NPR's Sylvia Poggioli reporting from Porto Santo Stefano in Italy. Sylvia, thanks.

POGGIOLI: Thank you, Guy. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.