By NICOLE WINFIELD
Italian prosecutors placed the captain of the Jolly Nero cargo ship under investigation Wed-nesday for alleged man-slaughter after his vessel slammed into the dock at Genoa’s busy port and toppled the control tower into the harbor, killing at least seven people.
As rescue teams in diving suits searched for two other missing people, officials began piecing together how the 40,000-ton container ship could have sideswiped the port’s control tower when weather and sea conditions were “perfect” on Tuesday night. The focus was on whether human error or a technical malfunction was to blame.
The crash occurred around 11 p.m. as the Jolly Nero was backing out of Genoa’s port accompanied by two tugboats and with a harbor pilot on its bridge. At the same time, a shift change was taking place among employees at the control tower, meaning more people were in the building than usual.
“This event is unbelievable because we had the best weather navigation conditions,” said Luigi Merlo, president of Genoa’s port authority.
The Jolly Nero’s captain, Roberto Paoloni, and the harbor pilot on board were placed under investigation for alleged manslaughter, Genoa prosecutor Michele di Lecce told reporters. He said other accusations were possible.
Lecce said backing out of the port was a frequently used maneuver to get away from the dock.
Firefighter spokesman Luca Cari confirmed that seven people were killed, saying rescue crews recovered several bodies near the tower’s submerged elevator. There were fears the two still missing might be trapped inside the elevator, he said.
The dead included three coast guard officials in the tower at the time of the crash, a port captain and a tugboat operator, said Cmdr. Filippo Marini, a coast guard spokesman.
Four other people were injured. There were no reports of missing ship crew members.
The disaster shook a nation that only a year ago witnessed another shipping tragedy when the Costa Concordia cruise ship slammed into a reef off Tuscany on Jan. 13, 2012, killing 32 people.