Liner survivor was 'seeing death'

An Indian national who was among the crew members who survived the sinking of an Italian ship last year recalled the experience as one that brought him close to death.

Peple look on January 19, 2012 at the cruise liner Costa Concordia aground in front of the harbour of the Isola del Giglio (Giglio island) after hitting underwater rocks on January 13. Italian rescuers resumed their search on board a crashed cruise ship the same day, as salvage workers prepared to pump out fuel from its tanks to avoid an environmental disaster.  AFP PHOTO / VINCENZO PINTO
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DUBAI // A former Dubai hotel supervisor who was working on the ill-fated cruise liner Costa Concordia when it capsized off the tiny Italian island of Giglio last week said he felt like he was "seeing death really close".

Jason Manuel D'Silva, 26, worked as a supervisor at the Habtoor Grand Beach Resort and Spa in Dubai Marina before becoming a pool attendant on the Costa Concordia.

He was on deck three when the liner began sinking. "I was in my cabin after my duty hours and was chatting with my friends when we suddenly heard a deafening noise," he said.

"The ship started tilting and things were falling on us. We ran out of our room and came to the meeting point after the captain ordered to abandon the ship."

Talking from the Courtyard Marriott Hotel in Rome, where he was staying before boarding a flight yesterday afternoon back home to India via Dubai, Mr D'Silva added: "In half an hour, there was water everywhere. I was very scared and worried. I never imagined the ship would sink so quickly. I felt like I was seeing death really close."

There were more than 4,200 passengers and crew on board at the time of the accident. At least 11 are confirmed dead and Italian divers and firefighters were yesterday still searching for 20 or more who were missing.

After the passengers had been evacuated, Mr D'Silva jumped on to one of the lifeboats.

"The only way out was to jump into a boat from the deck. The ship was sinking fast and all the luggage was falling over us and into the water," Mr D'Silva said.

He added that he said a silent prayer after he safely reached shore. He left all his belongings - including his passport and other identity papers - on the ship before abandoning it.

The captain of the ship, Francesco Schettino, is under house arrest on suspicion of multiple manslaughter and fleeing the ship before evacuation was complete.

"We have heard reports that it was the captain's fault," said Gopal Karthik, also a pool attendant. "Until it is known for sure, we don't want to blame him or anyone."

Mr D'Silva joined the cruise company in September last year after working at the Habtoor Grand Beach Resort and Spa in Dubai Marina - first as a waiter and then as a supervisor in the food and beverage section - for more than five years.

He quit the job in December 2010 to return home and eight months later, he took up his first ship assignment on the Costa Concordia.

"I liked Dubai," he said. "But I wanted to see the world, and I thought working on a ship was the best way to do that. But, after this incident, I am not sure if I will return to working on the sea. If I get a good opportunity, I will consider coming back to work in the emirate."

Baba Rafileen Preena, a banquet manager at the Habtoor Grand hotel said yesterday: "I am happy he is safe. I didn't know he was on the Costa Concordia. He quit his job to work on a ship. If he wants to come back, we are happy hire him again."

Mr Preena added that he remembered Mr D'Silva as a friendly and good worker.

The sailors from the sunken ship were scheduled to transit through the Dubai International Airport early Friday morning before reaching Mr D'Silva's home town of Mumbai.

The Indian Embassy in Rome is facilitating the travel of the 200 Indian crew members.

"The first batch of 85 sailors have already left for India," Mr Vishwesh Negi, the first secretary, said.

"The final batch of 115 will leave this afternoon [yesterday]," he said.

The men have received five months of their basic salary and tickets to return home.