At least 69 people are reported missing and three dead as a result of the Costa Concordia tragedy.
The Italian line’s president Gianni Onorato confirmed that the 3,800-passenger vessel suddenly hit rocks shortly after leaving Civitavecchia, the port of Rome, for Savona last night.
Unconfirmed Italian reports say two French passengers and one Peruvian crew member died in the accident. Costa is reported as saying there were 37 Britons on board - 25 passengers and 12 crew - and all were rescued.
Pictures of the stricken vessel, which turned on its side, show a giant gash in the side of the hull. A massive rescue operation evacuated 3,200 passengers and 1,000 crew from the $565 million vessel off the island of Giglio.
Describing the incident as a “terrible event”, Onorato said: “On the basis of the first evidences, still preliminary the ship Costa Concordia under the command of the Master Francesco Schettino was regularly sailing from Civitavecchia to Savona, when suddenly the ship stroked a rock.
“The Master, who was on the bridge at that time, understood the severity of the situation immediately performed a manoeuvre aimed to secure guests and crew, and started the security procedures in order to prepare for an eventual ship evacuation.
“Unfortunately, this operation was complicated as result of a sudden tilt of the ship that has made difficult the disembarkation.”
He went on to thank those involved in the rescue efforts and said: "I want to express our deep sorrow for this terrible tragedy that devastates us.”
Onorato added: “We are not at this time able to provide an answer to all the questions, because the competent authorities are trying with our co-operative efforts to understand the reasons for this incident.”
Early reports suggested there had been a power failure on board the six year old vessel, which was carrying passengers from a wide range of nationalities on a seven-night Mediterranean cruise.
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