A cruise ship that ran aground is seen off the west coast of Italy at Giglio island January 14, 2012.
Credits: (REUTERS/Remo Casilli)
Canadian officials are working overtime to determine the identities of Canadian citizens known to be aboard a cruise ship that ran aground near the Italian island of Giglio Friday night.
The 114,500-tonne Costa Concordia was carrying more than 4,000 people and media reports say that three people died in the accident and more than 70 are missing.
Claude Rochon, a spokeswoman with Foreign Affairs and International Trade Canada, told QMI Agency that "Canadian consular officials in Italy are working with local authorities to gather additional information concerning this incident and are in touch with Canadian citizens who were on the ship.
"Canadian consular officials are providing consular assistance as needed," Rochon added.
She said she could not disclose the identities of the Canadians since their privacy had to be protected.
Rochon said that anyone who believes they have family or friends on the ship should call Foreign Affairs and International Trade Canada toll free from Canada or the U.S. at 1-800-387-3124.
The luxury liner, which is owned by Costa Cruises, was on a Mediterranean cruise from Rome with stops in Savona, Marseille, Barcelona, Palma de Mallorca, Cagliari and Palermo.
Passengers had just sat down to dinner, a couple of hours after leaving the port of Civitavecchia near Rome, when disaster struck.
"It was complete panic. People were behaving like animals. We had to wait too long in the lifeboats," 47-year-old Patrizia Perilli told Reuters news agency. "We thought we wouldn't make it. I saw the lighthouse but I knew I couldn't swim that far but lots of people threw themselves into the sea. I think they are some of the dead."
The vessel was left capsized on its side in water 15-20 metres deep, with decks partly submerged, a few hundred metres from the shore. A large gash was visible on its side.
The president of Costa Cruises, Gianni Onorato, told BBC News that the main task for the company was to assist passengers and crew, and help repatriate them.
He said it was difficult to determine what had happened, but that the ship had experienced a blackout after hitting "a big rock".
Officials told Reuters that rescue efforts were continuing on Saturday after a night-time operation involving helicopters, ships and lifeboats. The picturesque harbour of Porto Santo Stefano was lined with ambulances and green tents for the victims.
"We have about 40 men at work and we're expecting specialist diving teams to arrive to check all the interior spaces of the ship," said fire services spokesman Luca Cari. "We don't rule out the possibility that more people will be lost."
This is the second Costa ship that has been involved in a deadly accident.
Three crew members on the Costa Europa died after the ship crashed into a pier in Egypt's Sharm el-Sheikh during stormy weather last year.
-- with files from Reuters