Cruise Ship Captain Questioned by Police

PHOTO: Ship Aground off Italy; 3 Bodies Found, 69 MissingPlayAP Photo/Gregorio Borgia
WATCH Disaster at Sea

A honeymooning couple were rescued from their cabin on a half-submerged cruise ship early Sunday, nearly 24 hours after the luxury liner hit a reef off the Italian coast and toppled over.

Divers had suspended the search of the part of the ship that is under water at dark, but rescuers continued to comb the remainder of the ship, knocking on cabin doors and searching for any signs of life.

Prato fire commander Vincenzo Bennardo told The Associated Press that couple rescued early Sunday were both about 29 years old and were in good condition.

The captain of the cruise ship has been detained for questioning by Italian authorities as Titanic-like tales of survival emerged among angry passengers.

Three people died when the luxury cruise liner Costa Concordia struck a reef and sank ont o its side off of the small island of Giglio early Saturday. The U.S. embassy in Rome said none of the 126 Americans on board the ship are among those who were seriously injured.

The gleaming ship was carrying 4,234 passengers and crew when it struck rocks off Italy's west coast during the night, tearing a 160-foot long gash in the hull.

Most of the ship's passengers were ferried to safety, but dozens were unaccounted for. Some may be safely on land, but officials feared some may have been trapped in the ship.

"The place where they might be is in the belly of the ship," Coast Guard Capt. Cosimo Nicastro told Sky TG24 TV.

Divers cautiously tried to inspect the ship which lay on its side half submerged, but the search was called off by darkness.

Many passengers fumed that they were left to fend for themselves as the ship keeled over and the electricity went out. There were few crew members to help and when they did try to help often got in the way of evacuations, passengers said.

The ship's captain Francesco Schettino was detained by authorities and questioned along with the ship's first bridge officer, the Italian news agency ANSA reported. ANSA said the captain could face criminal charges.

The agency reported that Schettino could be charged with abandoning ship since he reportedly left the stricken vessel about 12:30 a.m., while many passengers didn't get safely off the ship until 6 a.m.

There are also reports in the Italian press that Schettino took the Costa Concordia close to the harbor of Giglio island many times in the past so his passengers could take photographs.

The captain's lawyer Bruno Leporatti said Schettino was taken to the Grosseto jail, but argued that the captain was a hero.

"I would like to say that hundreds of people owe their life to the captain of the Costa Concordia's skill in an emergency," the lawyer said. "You have to be very good to bring a ship like this which is 117,000 tons and 300 meters long, which is sinking after a collision, close to land to allow for easy rescue so as to save so many people. I think the maneuver was brilliant from a nautical point of view."

Harrowing tales of chaos ensued for several hours as the crew and passengers tried to scramble to safety.

Cruise Ship Sinks Amid Screams, Darkness and Frantic Pushing

A passenger interviewed in the nearby port of Santo Stefano told ANSA that the pianist playing next to the restaurant while dinner was being served jumped into the sea after the ship slammed into the rock, and others followed him.

American Mark Plath, who had leaped off the ship and swam to rocks, told Sky Italia that he was woken up by loudspeakers shortly before 11 p.m. saying there was a power outage, but not to worry about it. About a half hour later, another announcement said they were still working on the power outage, but he noticed the ship was listing about 15 degrees.

When he went outside, he found about 500 people on the fourth floor deck.

"We were trying to get outside. People had children with them, people were pushing, people were yelling, people were pushing back. It was difficult to stay in control because so many people were upset," Plath said.

Lynn Kaelin of Seattle, Wash., told ABC News the ship's hallways were so crowded "We couldn't see where we were going. People were crying and screaming. No one was telling us what to do, at all."

Karen Kois, also of Seattle, said she knew to get warm clothing, although others were barefoot and lightly dressed.

"I had a sweater on under a raincoat. I gave it to a baby who had nothing," she said.

As for the pushing and shoving, Kois said, the crew "told us go one way, then the other. We didn't know what to do. They were just standing looking at us."

When they succeeded in reaching a life boat, it took 45 minutes to launch it, with the ropes tangled and the little crafts tilted. "And it's pitched black," Kois added.

Above them was the clatter of helicopters trying to pluck people from the decks.

"Have you seen 'Titanic?' That's exactly what it was," said Valerie Ananias, 31, a schoolteacher from Los Angeles. She and sister and parents all had dark red bruises on their knees from crawling along nearly vertical hallways and stairwells to reach rescue boats.

"We were crawling up a hallway, in the dark, with only the light from the life vest strobe flashing," her mother, Georgia Ananias, 61 said. "We could hear plates and dishes crashing, people slamming against walls."

She said an Argentine couple handed her their 3-year-old daughter, unable to keep their balance as the ship lurched to the side and the family found themselves standing on a wall.

"He said 'take my baby,'" Mrs. Ananias said, covering her mouth with her hand as she teared up. "I grabbed the baby. But then I was being pushed down. I didn't want the baby to fall down the stairs. I gave the baby back. I couldn't hold her."

Many of those who arrived on shore with blankets covering their elegant, but not very warm, dinner clothes, lashed out at the ship's crew.

"They are without shame! Without shame!" one passenger shouted after making it to land.

Cruise Ship Crew Is Criticized

Giuseppe Romano, a 57-year-old carabinieri on the cruise, said, "We lived apocalyptic scenes. There was a strident sound followed by a bang and plates and glasses started flying in the restaurant."

"After the first bang, the crew members said there was a fault and that we should stay calm... Then we heard another bang and I think that the ship hit the rocks again. Then the lights went out," Romano said.

"An officer on the ship asked me to help the people. Immediately afterwards I with other men stated taking people off the ship. During this whole apocalyptic scene we saw few crew members," he said.

Mike van Dijk, a 54-year-old from Pretoria, South Africa, said crew members delayed lowering the lifeboats even thought the ship was listing badly.

"We had to scream at the controllers to release the boats from the side," said van Dijk. "We were standing in the corridors and they weren't allowing us to get onto the boats. It was a scramble, an absolute scramble."

The ship's owner was as mystified by the crash as the passengers.

"At the time of the collision with the rock the captain of the Costa Concordia was on the command bridge," said the Director General of Costa Crociera Gianni Onorato speaking to journalists at the port of Porto Santo Stefano.

Onorato said the liner was on its regular, weekly route when it struck a reef.

"The ship was doing what it does 52 times a year, going along the route between Civitavecchia and Savona," Onorato said.

The Associated Press contributed to this report