Francesco Saya  /  AP
An injured passenger of a commuter hydrofoil is placed in an ambulance on Sicily, Italy, on Monday after the boat collided with a cargo ship.
updated 1/15/2007 10:02:07 PM ET 2007-01-16T03:02:07

A cargo ship and a commuter hydrofoil collided near the entrance to the Sicilian port of Messina on Monday evening, killing four people on the hydrofoil and leaving dozens of passengers injured, officials said.

Five of its passengers were in serious condition, police said. No one aboard the cargo vessel was hurt.

The bodies of the hydrofoil's captain and three crew members were found in the wreckage of the boat, which suffered heavy damage to its right side, police said. The only other two crew members were injured.

After freeing two passengers, firefighters worked late into the night trying to extract the bodies of two of the dead from the wreckage, working gingerly because of fear any false move might cause the stricken vessel to sink.

“The bridge of the hydrofoil was destroyed,” Port Cmdr. Antonino Samiani said.

About 55 of the 150 people aboard were injured, said Gaetano Pellizzeri, an official for the state railways, which operated the hydrofoil.

From survivors’ accounts and images of the craft as it was being towed toward the dock, it appeared the hydrofoil had been struck in the side by the container ship.

‘Lights went out’
“All of a sudden we were hit on the right side, and then lights went out,” a young Italian man told reporters on the dock as fellow passengers, many dazed or with bloodied faces, were put into ambulances.

The hydrofoil was crumpled on one side, near the pilot’s cabin, with the middle of the roof smashed inward.

Despite the appearances of the vessel, Messina police official Salvatore Arena told private TG5 TV that it was premature to conclude that the container ship had rammed the passenger craft. Prosecutors, port officials and transport authorities began investigations.

The ferry, packed with workers and university students heading home for the day, was approaching Messina after crossing the Strait of Messina from Reggio Calabria when the collision occurred at about 6 p.m.

“I helped passengers, some of whom, panicking, jumped into the sea,” Francesco Benedetto, an employee of a state anti-Mafia investigative office who was aboard the hydrofoil, told the Italian news agency ANSA. “It was terrible.”

The port office identified the merchant vessel as the container ship Susan Borchard, which was navigating in the strait. It was not immediately clear what cargo the ship was carrying.

Hydrofoils are fast-moving, motorized craft that skim over the sea’s surface thanks to flat or curved finlike devices attached by struts to the hull.

Calabria, the “toe” of the boot-shaped Italian peninsula, is linked to the island of Sicily by air and sea routes.

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