A container ship and a commuter hydrofoil collided near the entrance to the Sicilian port of Messina, killing four crew members on the hydrofoil and injuring dozens of passengers, police and port officials said.
Five passengers were in serious condition, police said early yesterday. No one aboard the cargo vessel was hurt.
Messina police headquarters' operations room said the bodies of the captain and three of his crew were found in the wreckage of the hydrofoil, which was nearly pierced in two on its right side by the collision shortly after twilight on Monday evening.
Hours later, firefighters were trying to extract the last two bodies from the wreckage, working gingerly, police said, because of fear any false move might cause the stricken hydrofoil to sink.
"The bridge of the hydrofoil was destroyed," Port Commander Antonino Samiani said.
Gaetano Pellizzeri, an official for the state railways, which operated the hydrofoil, said about 55 of the 150 people aboard were injured.
With no crew members unscathed aboard the hydrofoil -- besides the four dead, the two surviving crew members were injured -- passengers said they used cellphones to call for help.
"All of a sudden we were hit on the right side, and then lights went out. There was a generalized shock," a young Italian man told reporters on the dock as fellow passengers, many dazed or with bloodied faces, were put into ambulances. "Some people had fractures, and others had debris on their head."
"The keel of the boat which struck us came into the boat, on the right side. We could see the writing and details'' on the cargo ship, said the survivor, who did not give his name.
The hydrofoil was crumpled on one side, near the pilot's cabin, with the middle of the roof smashed inward.
Messina police official Salvatore Arena told private TG5 TV that despite the appearance of the hydrofoil, it was premature to conclude that the container ship had rammed the passenger craft. Prosecutors, port officials and transport authorities began investigations.
The hydrofoil, 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 6pm.
"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.
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