MARGARET Hughes was shaken by the cruise ship Costa Concordia disaster, not the least because only a couple of months ago she was one of its passengers.
Mrs Hughes, 80, of Bli Bli, spent seven days on the luxury liner, cruising between Spain, Malta and Italy with her sister-in-law.
"It was a beautiful ship," she said yesterday. "I still can't believe what has happened."
During the cruise, Mrs Hughes had her photo taken with the captain Francesco Schettino. Capt Schettino has been arrested and faces several charges, including manslaughter, in relation to the incident which began to unfold on Saturday.
The ship was holed by rocks off Italy's Tuscan coast and spectacularly keeled over just off the island of Giglio.
Late yesterday, of the ship's 4200 passengers, five had been confirmed dead and 15 were still missing.
A helicopter plucked three survivors from the stricken vessel early yesterday as rescue teams frantically scoured the cruise ship - the 26th largest in the world - for those missing.
Mrs Hughes said she and her sister-in-law Sheila Hughes had a stateroom with a balcony on Concordia's Deck 7.
"It's under water now," she said.
"We looked for it."
Mrs Hughes, who had taken one other cruise with Costa, said the crew had run emergency drills with the passengers.
"The crew was pretty good," she said.
Costa Concordia is about a third bigger than P&O's Pacific Dawn, which cruises out of Brisbane. It can carry twice as many passengers.
A Costa Cruises spokesman said from Sydney yesterday that the line did not regularly sail from Australian ports, although around-the-world cruises visited from time to time.
Costa Cruises is owned by giant United States line Carnival, which also owns P&O.
About 105 P&O cruise ships will glide in and out of the Port of Brisbane this year, past the Sunshine Coast.
A Carnival Australia spokesman said Australians should have confidence in the safety of cruise ship operations because they operated under strict guidelines.
"Passengers become aware of the strong emphasis on safety when they board their ship," he said.
"For example, compulsory passenger musters and safety briefings are conducted before a ship sails."
Cruising has an excellent safety record, according to experts.
Over the past two decades, about 90 million passengers have been on cruises without a major incident, Malcolm Latarche, the editor of the global shipping magazine IHS Fairplay Solutions, told Britain's Daily Mail.
Last year, more than 19 million passengers boarded cruises across the globe.
COSTA CONCORDIA STATS
Capacity: 4200 passengers
Decks: 13 decks
Weight: 114,000 tons
Max speed: 23 knots
Sails from: Genoa, Italy
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