Video: Disaster at sea

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    >>> with a deadly cruise ship disaster near a small island along italy's tuscan coast. it happened in the dark of night when the huge vessel carrying thousands of vacationers including over 100 americans ran aground, took on water and tipped on its side. tonight, at least three bodies have been recovered. 40 people remain unaccounted for and the ship's captain is under arrest. survivors some who have who swam for their lives are telling harrowing stories of panic, fear and confusion as they desperately looked for a way off the stricken ship. eventually, they were evacuated to porto santo stefano where our correspondent is standing by to bring us the very latest. claudio, good evening.

    >> reporter: good evening, lester. well, from here in porto santo stefano , the passengers are being taken to the city of rome from which they will go back to their home country. much earlier of course than they expected. the u.s. embassy has got back to us, saying that none of the 126 passengers -- american passengers that were on board of that ship were injured, but for all of the passengers, this was the longest day . a shocking scene today off the italian coast. as rescuers frantically searched for any survivors across the board. the luxury cruise ship dubbed the floating temple of fun was caring are 4,234 people including 126 americans when it ran aground last night. survivors would go to land in lifeboats. day break revealed the gash 150 feet long on the right side of the ship. the survivors recall the first terrifying moments.

    >> all of a sudden, everything shifted on the ship. fell off out our table at dinner. and they said everything was fine. obviously, it's not fine.

    >> reporter: at first, the crew tried to reassure passengers saying it was simply a technical problem. but there was panic.

    >> we had a blackout, and everybody was screaming and yelling. all the passengers were running up and down. and then we went to our cabin to find out what was going on.

    >> at the very end, before we jumped off, the crew members were telling us to stay on.

    >> reporter: the ship had left a few hours before it hit a reef or a rock off a tiny island of gigio. passengers said it reminded them of the movie "titanic."

    >> i could easily understand the comparison to the film. there were people scrambling all over each other.

    >> reporter: the costa concordia is one of the largest ships in the fleet and makes its trip around the mediterranean weekly. and after the concordia began the faithful voyage. well, in the last few hours the captain of this ship was arrested on allegations of manslaughter and abandoning the ship before his passengers were accountable. the company -- the parent company also issued a statement saying that it is deeply saddened by this tragedy and it is working to fully understand what happened. lester?

    >> claudio, thank you. and a short time ago, we spoke with a college student from bowling green , kentucky, who was on vacation with friends aboard the ship when it ran aground. here is lauren moore described to us what happened.

    >> it started during dinner. we were all seated. suddenly, there was a loud noise and the boat started tilting and you could hear glasses and plates hit the ground and shatter. the lights started flickering and people just started running in all directions. some people were telling passengers there was no need to go to the boat. some people were telling others to put their life vests on, but there was no directions and that went on for about -- at least an hour before the siren finally went off, that signalled go to the boats. but it was completely tilted at that point. we ran really toward a lifeboat and that's really where the chaos set in. everyone was trying to fight their way on to a boat. and the crew members were having to knock people back. the crew members were definitely having a hard time controlling the situation at this point.

    >> american passenger aboard that ship

updated 1/14/2012 9:55:39 PM ET 2012-01-15T02:55:39

Language barriers, overwhelmed local authorities, squads of foreign diplomats with lists of awkward questions — the international mix of passengers and crew aboard the stricken Costa Concordia cruise liner added to the complications Saturday for Italian officials handling the emergency.

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Local authorities were fielding inquiries from dozens of nations worried about the 4,234 people who were aboard the ship when it ran aground and tipped over off the coast of Italy, including Italians, Germans, French, Britons and Americans, and about 1,000 crew members from across the globe.

As international travel has grown easier, aid agencies and lawmakers alike have frequently warned of the potential for confusion in the wake of international emergencies, as sometimes competing nations or international organizations arrive at a disaster site.

In Italy, a host of countries sent diplomatic staff to the scene as three bodies were recovered from the sea off the tiny island of Giglio, close to the coast of Tuscany.

British ambassador Christopher Prentice said he had seen his counterparts from Germany and Spain at local hospitals, where diplomats were checking identities and tallying numbers of those injured.

Officials from the U.K. and Australia set up a joint base at Porto Santo Stefano middle school, which had been transformed into a temporary holding center for rescued passengers.

Though the school was a scene of chaos as passengers tried to find buses to take them back to Rome or the coastal town of Savona and embassy officials cross-referenced ship logs and passenger lists, Prentice said nations were cooperating well.

"This is obviously a very serious and major incident. My impression at this stage is that the Italian authorities have responded excellently and our cooperation with them has been very good," Prentice said, as he offered advice to Britons at the school.

Other embassies sent lower-level officials to work with the ship operator Costa and local authorities, offering help to foreign passengers who didn't speak Italian and were struggling to understand the response to the accident or how to get home.

Consular officials wore bright green or orange emergency vests to identify themselves to their co-nationals, offering help in how to obtain emergency passports, since many non-Europeans had to turn them in to cruise officials upon boarding.

Prentice said that in a still unfolding crisis scenario, good coordination was key. "It is about cooperation, and things are being done here very calmly and sensibly, I've been impressed by the effort of the Italian authorities," he said.

As nations were still attempting to confirm the identities of passengers who had been rescued from the ship, rescuers focused on several dozen people still unaccounted for.

Monty Mathisen, of the New York-based publication Cruise Industry News, said Costa would be well prepared to handle the demands of countries searching for news of the passengers and crew.

"They are well set up to deal with those kind of issues," said Mathisen. "The cruise industry is one of most regulated industries."

Marcus Oxley, then disaster management director of the relief charity Tearfund told a committee of British lawmakers in 2006 of the nightmare confronting local authorities as organizations descend on an area requesting information, or offering help.

"In the white hot heat of an emergency, these things are extraordinarily difficult to do," he said.

Stringer reported from London.

© 2013 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Photos: Luxury cruise ship Costa Concordia runs aground

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  1. People on lifeboats evacuate the Costa Concordia after it ran aground on Jan. 13, 2012, killing 32 people. The cruise ship is the subject of the biggest salvage operation in maritime history (Giuseppe Modesti / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  2. Passengers arrive at Porto Santo Stefano on Jan. 14 after the Costa Concordia ran aground off the Italian island of Giglio. (Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  3. Costa Concordia cruise liner captain Francesco Schettino is escorted by Italian police on Jan. 14, 2012, in Grosseto. Schettino was arrested on charges of manslaughter, causing a shipwreck and abandoning ship, police said. (Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  4. Firefighters on a dinghy look at a rock emerging from the side of the Costa Concordia on Jan. 15, 2012. (Andrea Sinibaldi / Lapresse via AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  5. A woman looks at the wreck of the Costa Concordia cruise liner on Jan. 16, 2012. (Gregorio Borgia / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  6. A satellite image shows the wreck of the Costa Concordia off the island of Giglio on Jan. 17, 2012. (DigitalGlobe) Back to slideshow navigation
  7. Search and rescue teams continue the search for survivors on the Costa Concordia on Jan. 19, 2012. (Tullio M. Puglia / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  8. Police divers look at the bell of the stricken Costa Concordia luxury liner during their underwater search on Jan. 19, 2012. (Carabinieri via AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  9. Divers make their way into a flooded cabin of the Costa Concordia cruise ship In this undated photo released by the Italian Navy on Jan. 24, 2012. (Italian Navy / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  10. The capsized Costa Concordia cruise ship lies off the snow-covered island of Giglio on Feb. 11, 2012. (Giampiero Sposito / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  11. A boy prepares to snorkel in front of the wreckage of the capsized cruise liner Costa Concordia on Aug. 28, 2012. (Alessandro Bianchi / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  12. The Costa Concordia cruise ship lays near the harbor of Giglio on Oct. 14, 2012. The luxury cruise ship capsized and sank on Jan. 13, 2012, after approaching the Tuscan island of Giglio to perform a manuever close to the shore known as a "salute." (Filippo Monteforte / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  13. Workers stand on the Costa Concordia cruise ship near the port on Jan. 8, 2013 on the Italian island of Giglio. (Filippo Monteforte / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  14. An aerial view, taken from an Italian Navy helicopter, shows the Costa Concordia surrounded by other vessels on Aug. 26. (Alessandro Bianchi / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  15. A diver participates in a search operation Sept. 24, 2013, for two missing bodies onboard the Costa Concordia. The last two missing bodies were recovered on Sept. 26. (Laura Lezza / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  16. Vessels surround the wreck of the Costa Concordia cruise ship during an operation to refloat the boat on July 14, 2014 off the Italian island of Giglio. More than two-and-a-half years after it crashed off in a nighttime disaster which left 32 people dead, the plan is to raise and tow the vessel in an unprecedented and delicate operation for its final journey to the shipyard where it was built in the port of Genoa. (Vincenzo Pinto / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
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