Rome, Jan 14: At least six people were killed and more than 4,000 passengers and crew were rescued last night after a packed cruise liner began sinking off the Italian coast after running aground.
Several British holidaymakers were on the Costa Concordia which had left port at 7pm for a seven-day Mediterranean Cruise - but within two hours of leaving port, it ground to a halt in the sea with a major electrical fault, reports daily Mail.
Coastguards were immediately dispatched to the scene near the island of Giglio, off the Tuscan coast.
Terrified passengers were ordered to put on life vests and man life boats as the 850ft-long luxury floating palace, which costs up to £1,200 a night, began to list heavily to one side.
The identities of the dead have not yet been released.
Among them was a man around age 65, who officials believe may not have been able to withstand the cold of the sea at night.
It is thought that the death toll may rise.
Costa Cruises said in a statement it was ‘too early to say what had caused the incident'.
They confirmed that 3,200 passengers were onboard at the time along with 1,000 crew members and all had been evacuated by lifeboat and taken to the island of Giglio where emergency accommodation had been prepared for them.
They added that ‘the position of the ship which is worsening is making more difficult the last part of the evacuation'.
By 1.20am local time, this had been virtually completed and officials said that the liner was listing at an angle of 20 degrees but it was not in danger of sinking.
Besides lifeboats, five other ships that were in the area and a helicopter were used in the operation to ensure that all passengers and crew were safely evacuated.
There were reports of people having jumped into the water but no injuries were reported.
Photographs from the scene on Italian TV news websites showed the Costa Concordia listing to one side close to the harbour wall at Giglio while other showed passengers wearing live vests huddled on the dockside.
The drama unfolded near the island of Giglio, off the Tuscan coast, after the Costa Concordia, one of the biggest ships in the Costa cruise fleet with 1,500 cabins, had left the port of Civitavecchia and was sailing north to Savona, its first port of call.
Passenger Luciano Castro told Italian media: ‘We were having dinner when all of a sudden the lights went out.
‘It seemed as if the ship struck something and then we heard a load bang and everything fell to the floor.
‘The captain immediately came on the tannoy and said that there had been an electrical fault but it seemed very strange as the ship almost immediately began to list to one side. The glasses just slid off the table.
‘We were then told to put on our lifevests and head to the life boats just to be safe but there was a real panic onboard you could see it in the faces of the people especially those with young families.
‘Then a few minutes later there were seven whistles which meant everyone had to get in the lifeboats.'
Another passenger Mara Parmegiani said: ‘It was just like something out of the Titanic.
‘You could tell straight away that the ship had hit something and no way was it an electrical fault.'
Giglio's mayor Sergio Ortelli said: ‘We are on full emergency alert and we are preparing to receive the life boats with the passengers onboard.'
A webcam on the website of Costa Cruises showed the position of the £450million six-year-old Concordia just off the coast near Giglio with a caption reading: ‘Data transmission is temporarily suspended.'
The website also adds that the Costa Concordia is a ‘real floating temple of fun that will amaze you,' and it has four swimming pools, five restaurants and 13 bars.
Prices for winter cruises in the Mediterranean start at £390 but can top £1,200 for a top of the range suite with sea view.