Rome: The Italian port of Genoa held a day of mourning on Thursday as rescuers searched for survivors from a cargo ship crash that left at least seven people dead in what one of the pilots said was an accident caused by an engine malfunction.
Flags flew at half-mast, bells rang out and shops shut down in Italy’s busiest port as city residents came out in their thousands for the vigil, which was led by mayor Marco Doria.
Four people were also injured and two people are still missing and feared dead after the cargo ship rammed into the port’s control tower late on Tuesday in an incident that evoked memories of last year’s Costa Concordia cruise ship disaster.
The port pilot who was on board the Jolly Nero during the manoeuvre on Tuesday and is under investigation along with the ship’s captain said in an interview that he believed the crash was due to a technical engine malfunction.
The ship, which was carrying trucks and containers bound for Naples, had been navigating backwards towards the control tower and was then expected to move forward and steer into the open sea in a routine manoeuvre.
“I told the captain that we were getting too close to the Giano dock,” pilot Antonio Anfossi was quoted by local daily Il Secolo XIX as saying. “Then suddenly the ship no longer responded to commands. It was out of control.
“We tried to stop but we couldn’t. We crashed into the control tower and that was the end.
“The ship was not responding to commands. The engines could not be started up again. [Ship captain Roberto Paoloni] tried once, he tried again, then he communicated there was a problem saying, ‘Fault, fault!’
“We had to stop the Jolly Nero so we tried to put down the anchors, but it was already too late and the ship ploughed into the dock seconds later, bringing down the 50-metre glass-topped control tower.
“I do not feel guilty. For me, now is a time for tears.”
The control tower oversaw maritime operations for the entire north-west of Italy and transport authorities have put in place a temporary system through the nearby port of Savona to ensure navigation can continue in the busy hub.
Genoa port chief Luigi Merlo told La Repubblica that the turn the Jolly Nero was trying to perform happens 14,000 times a year in the port but acknowledged that the docks could be expanded.
“The ships are getting bigger and bigger and this model of port goes back to the early 19th century,” Merlo said. “We have to expand it and equip it for new requirements.”
Internationally renowned architect Renzo Piano, a native of Genoa, told La Repubblica he had known the dock where the crash took place ever since as a child he used to come with his father to watch the ships coming in.
“What happened was anomalous and terrifying,” he said.