Two survivors have been rescued from a cabin on a luxury cruise ship, more than 24 hours after it ran aground off the Tuscan coast of Italy.

The South Korean couple, who were on their honeymoon, responded in the door-to-door search of cabins aboard the Costa Concordia and were brought to safety in good condition early Sunday, officials said.

However, at least three people have been confirmed dead and close to 40 others remained unaccounted for after the ship ran aground Friday night.

Coast guard officer Marcello Fertitta told The Associated Press that firefighters had difficulty pinpointing where the pair was on the cruise ship and called in a specialized search team.

'We should have been in the life boats sooner, in my opinion.' — Passenger Alan Willits, of Wingham, Ont.

In another development, the 12 Canadians known to be aboard are well and accounted for, Foreign Affairs spokesman Claude Rochon said.

Three bodies have been recovered from the sea after the Italian cruise ship with 4,234 people aboard ran aground a few hundred metres off the tiny island of Giglio near the coast of Tuscany late Friday.

Italian officials are matching names on the cruise ship's list of passengers and crew with those of survivors and say the number of the unaccounted for has dropped to roughly 40 from as many as 70. A number of people have been taken to the French port of Marseille.

Earlier Saturday, the captain of the Costa Concordia was was arrested, according to a local prosecutor, and reportedly faces criminal charges.

The captain, Francesco Schettino, was detained for questioning by prosecutors, investigating him for suspected manslaughter, abandoning ship before all others, and causing a shipwreck, state TV and Sky TV said. Prosecutor Francesco Verusio was quoted by ANSA as saying Schettino deliberately chose a sea route that was too close to shore.

ANSA reported Schettino will be held until next week, when a judge will decide whether he should be released or formally put under arrest.

France said two of the victims were Frenchmen; a Peruvian diplomat identified the third victim as Tomas Alberto Costilla Mendoza, 49, a crewman from Peru. Some 30 people were injured, at least two seriously.

Divers with the Italian coast guard headed to the belly of the cruise ship to search for the missing after the ship ran aground Friday night.


Alan and Laurie Willits from Wingham, Ont. escaped in a life boat and are in Rome. (Willits family photo)

Capt. Cosimo Nicastro said Saturday divers were carrying out a risky operation to inspect the submerged half of the Costa Concordia in case anyone remained trapped inside.

Nicastro told Sky TG24 TV rescuers carried out an extensive search of the waters near the ship for hours and "we would have seen bodies," adding that "the place where they might be is in the belly of the ship."

The ship ran aground off the tiny island of Giglio, a popular vacation isle off Italy's central west coast, forcing thousands of passengers to jump into the Mediterranean Sea as water poured in through a 50-metre gash in the hull.

"They didn't send a mayday," officer Emilio Del Santo of the Coastal Authorities of Livorno told CNN. "The ship got in contact with us once the evacuation procedures were already ongoing."

Investigators will be examining how a ship travelling in calm waters, on a route that it normally does more than 50 times a year, could hit such a large rock.

Costa Cruises history

  • 2010: Two collisions, power failure blamed.
  • 2009: Engine problems, fire in generator room.
  • 2008: Almost collided with car transporter.

The ship is operated by Costa Crociera SpA, which is owned by the U.S.-based cruise giant Carnival Corp. The Italian firm defended the actions of its crew and said it was co-operating with the investigation. Carnival Corp. issued a statement expressing sympathy that didn't address the allegations of delayed evacuation.

Schettino's lawyer, Bruno Leporatti told the agency: "I'd like to say that several hundred people owed their life to the expertise that the commander of the Costa Concordia showed during the emergency."

A top Costa executive said Saturday that despite some early reports that the captain was dining with passengers when his ship crashed into the reef, he was on the bridge.

"The ship was doing what it does 52 times a year, going along the route between Civitavecchia and Savona," a shaken-looking Gianni Onorato told reporters on Giglio.

He said the captain was an 11-year Costa veteran and that the cruise line was co-operating with Italian investigators to find out what went wrong.

Malcolm Latarche, editor of maritime magazine IHS Fairplay Solutions, said a loss of power coupled with a failure of backup systems could have caused the crew to lose control.

"I would say power failure caused by harmonic interference and then it can't propel straight or navigate and it hit rocks," Latarche said.

Two French passengers and a Peruvian crewman died in the accident, the Italian news agency ANSA reported.

Costa Cruises statement

"Captain [Francesco] Schettino, who was on the bridge at the time, immediately understood the severity of the situation and performed a maneuver intended to protect both guests and crew, and initiated security procedures to prepare for an eventual ship evacuation.

Unfortunately, that operation was complicated by a sudden tilting of the ship that made disembarkation difficult."

Some of the people aboard the Costa Concordia jumped and swam 350 metres to the island of Giglio. Others scrambled into lifeboats.

A couple from Wingham, Ont., are among the Canadian survivors. Alan and Laurie Willits were watching the magic show in the ship's main theatre when they felt an initial lurch, as if from a severe steering manoeuvre.

"[The ship] steered quickly to the right, the ship banked. It was sliding us out of our seats … and then there was a shudder. You could tell we definitely hit something," Willits told CBC News in a telephone interview from Rome on Saturday.

Willits said it took some time before passengers were informed of how serious the problem was.

"They were saying it was a generator problem. A generator problem would not make a ship start leaning," Willits said. "We should have been in the life boats sooner, in my opinion."

When the ship — carrying 4,234 passengers and crew — began listing, the signal to abandon ship was sounded. By Saturday morning, the ship could be seen lying on its side in the water.


Rocks emerge from the damaged side of the luxury cruise ship Costa Concordia that run aground the tiny Tuscan island of Giglio, Italy, on Saturday. (Gregorio Borgia/Associated Press)

"Passengers were eating dinner. It was around 9:35," CBC's Megan Williams said, reporting from Rome. "The ship groaned and the lights went out."

"They were told at the time that there was a short-circuit, that they had in fact not crashed. Other information has shown that in fact they did crash. They probably hit the rocks off the island of Giglio, which is about a mile off the coast of Tuscany. The ship should have been about six miles off the coast, so something clearly went wrong."

A lot of the lifeboats were apparently filled with water by the time passengers got to them, according to media reports.

Passengers complained the crew failed to give instructions on how to evacuate and once the emergency became clear, delayed lowering the lifeboats until the ship was listing too heavily for many of them to be released.

Crew member Fabio Costa described a chaotic scene near one of the lifeboats.


"Everything happened really, really fast. We saw the water coming in and the emergency signal, and everybody went to the place to try to get on the boat, but people started to panic. So they were pushing each other," he said.

"The crew was trying to help the passengers. A lot of people were falling down the stairs and they were hurt because things fell on them. When they had to get on the lifeboat, everyone was pushing each other, so it was pretty chaotic."

Helicopters plucked to safety about 50 people who were trapped on the ship after it listed so badly they couldn't launch lifeboats, Coast Guard Cmdr. Francesco Paolillo told The Associated Press in Rome by telephone from his command in the Tuscan port city of Livorno.

With files from The Associated Press