ROME -- Rescue workers in Italy scrambled Wednesday to find survivors after a container ship slammed into a 165-foot-tall observation tower at the port of Genoa, toppling it into the sea and killing at least seven people.
Divers searching through rubble-filled water found three bodies trapped underwater inside the tower’s elevator shaft, officials said. Four people were injured, they said, and at least two are still missing.
Italian media reports quoted investigators identifying a possible cause of the incident, which happened late Tuesday night, as engine failure aboard the vessel, the Jolly Nero.
The crash coincided with a shift change at the tower, which meant that more people were in the building than usual, and some were likely using the elevator to reach the glass-fronted observation decks. Perched on the water’s edge at the entrance to the busy port’s inner harbor, the concrete tower was used by port authorities to monitor shipping.
A four-story building beside the tower was also reduced to a pile of rubble by the impact. A port pilot, Maurizio Potenza, was pulled alive from the wreckage of the building by rescue workers Wednesday morning.
[Updated 12:25 p.m. May 8: Early reports that a survivor had been pulled alive from the wreckage Wednesday proved unfounded. Potenza was later reported to be among the dead.]
As it left the port at around 11:30 p.m. Tuesday, the 40,500-ton, 655-foot-long Jolly Nero was being escorted by two tugs, officials said. A port pilot was at the wheel to ensure a smooth exit before it set sail for destinations around the Mediterranean.
As it neared the tower, the stern of the ship, which was loaded with containers, swung around, smashing into the side of the building, officials said.
“This maneuver has been done hundreds of times,” Claudio Burlando, governor of the region of Liguria, told Italian TV station Sky TG24. “We are all asking how this happened."
A witness at the port quoted by Italian media said he heard voices crying out: “The tower! The tower!”
“I rushed out of my office, but the tower was no longer there. In its place stood the hull of the ship,” the man said.
The incident comes over a year after the Costa Concordia cruise ship rammed into rocks at the Italian island of Giglio, ripping a hole in the ship’s side. Thirty-two passengers and crew members died trying to escape the ship as it keeled over onto its side in shallow water.
Francesco Schettino, the ship’s captain, is likely to face trial for manslaughter later this year.
Messina, the shipping firm that owns the Jolly Nero, said in a statement that the ship was undertaking its "usual maneuver" and that "words do not exist to express our consternation and profound sympathy for the victims of this tragedy and their families."
In 2002, the Jolly Verde, a 30,000-ton vessel owned by the company, rammed a dock at the port of Genoa, toppling a 120-foot-tall crane. No one was hurt in that incident.
For the record, 1:55 p.m. May 8: A previous version of this post incorrectly stated that Claudio Burlando is the governor of Lombardy. He is the governor of Liguria.