Survivors recount ordeal on Italian liner that ran aground

“Many years ago, I saw the Hollywood hit Titanic. Not once did I imagine that I would experience something similar, until last Friday. When our ship capsized I immediately understood what it means when one has a close encounter with fear, anxiety and death.”

This is how Vinod Kumar, a crew member on the cruise liner Costa Concordia who survived the tragedy off the coast of Italy on Friday, recalled his brush with death. He compared the scenes on board the stricken vessel to James Cameron's romance and disaster epic.

Born again

“After surviving the accident, I feel as if I have been born again. A week after the incident, I am back in my home town and commencing a new life. I am really blessed,” said a smiling Mr. Kumar minutes after the Emirates flight that he was on touched down at Bengaluru International Airport on Thursday evening.

He arrived along with Basheer Iftekar Ahmed. While Mr. Ahmed was working as an acting supervisor on the ill-fated ship, Mr. Kumar was his assistant.

Both hail from Bangalore and were among the 4,234 passengers and crew whose Mediterranean holiday turned into a nightmarish fight for survival when the luxury liner ran aground on January 13.

So attuned to the hierarchy is Mr. Kumar that despite the accident and the near-death experience, he kept looking at Mr. Ahmed and asked him to answer all questions first before repeating what his senior said.

The incident

Recalling the incident, Mr. Ahmed, who has worked on Costa Concordia for seven years, said, “It all happened at 9.45 p.m. We heard a thud and the vessel wobbled. We were accustomed to such things happening during rough weather. Over 1,800 passengers were having dinner. But when ship began to list around 10.30 p.m., panic gripped the passengers.”

Taking a deep breath, he continued, “Initially we were told there was no reason for panic; later we were asked to evacuate the passengers and abandon ship. We did our best to rescue as many passengers as possible in lifeboats and took them to the nearest island by making repeated trips back and forth before finally abandoned the sinking ship. We [crew] were the last to leave the ship,” he said.

When asked for a possible reason for the disaster, Mr. Ahmed said, “It was human error.”

Ready to go back

Despite the trauma of the incident, both said they were willing to go back to serving on cruise liners. Mr. Ahmed said, “I don't know. I may go back. That's not a problem. The money is good and they take good care [of us].”

Mr. Kumar's reaction was similar. “Of course I will go back as I have lost everything now. My life is the sea. This incident has made me stronger.”