herald

Tuesday 21 November 2017

Chefs and waiters helped more than safety crew

Passengers told how they were forced to fend for themselves after a life jacket shortage and huge delays prompted fights and caused crew members to panic.

One retired couple admitted they thought they were "done for" as they slid down the deck of the cruise liner as it listed heavily after striking a reef off the Italian coast.

Pieced together, the individual tales of survival form a picture of utter chaos and mismanagement.

A French woman who is five months pregnant sobbed as she told how she was forced to watch the captain and crew put their own safety first, leaping into life rafts ahead of the most vulnerable passengers.

Isabelle Mougin (38) said: "They wouldn't let us off. We were stuck, they told us we couldn't get off. I thought we were all going to die. The captain just went, he just left the boat."

Ian and Janice Donoff from Edgware, north London, who were on their honeymoon, said it was like "something out of a disaster movie".

Derek and Viv Ebbage, retired teachers from Leeds, described how disaster struck on Friday.

Mrs Ebbage (68) said there were moments when they were convinced neither of them would make it. "We are both very, very lucky to be here."

Mr Ebbage, also 68, added: "Suddenly, around 9.30pm, there was an almighty bang. Our table went flying, everything crashed to the floor and the lights went out.

"Moments later there was an announcement from the Captain saying there was an electrical fault and that everything was under control, but you could feel the ship swaying from side to side."

Despite the severity of the situation, it took an hour before orders were given to man the lifeboats, many of which were rendered useless because the ship was listing too heavily by then.

Mr Ebbage said: "There was no chain of command. It was just pure chaos."

John Rodford (46) a tiler and plasterer from Rochester, Kent, said it was "chefs and waiters" aiding the escape, rather than officers. He said: "I didn't see captains' jackets and things like that. It was dinner staff. Costa people were few and far between."

It is understood most of the 23 British passengers and 12 crew members made their way to Rome after being rescued and many have already flown home.

Among the last to leave the vessel were eight British dancers who were performing in the ship's restaurant when disaster struck.

One, Rose Metcalf (22), helped calm passengers and took a roll call before eventually being rescued by an Italian air force helicopter.

Miss Metcalf also confirmed that the captain had abandoned the ship in the early stages of the evacuation, leaving his staff and passengers "to their own devices".

Edwin Gurd, a 64-year-old retired police officer from Ringwood, Hants, said: "My wife got on lifeboat No 17 and we got as many women and children on as possible. But there was later quite a lot of panic from the men, who were forcing their way on to the boats. They were pushing in front of women. There was a real danger of crushing injuries."

hnews@herald.ie

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