- The Washington Times - Saturday, November 15, 2003

ST. NAZAIRE, France — A gangway on the world’s largest cruise ship, the Queen Mary II, collapsed yesterday, killing 13 persons and injuring 32. Most were workers and their families on a special tour of the nearly completed ship.

Dozens of people were on the ramp at the time of the accident, which sent them plunging 50 feet to the ground and transformed the luxury liner into a scene of bodies entangled in wreckage.

There was no immediate explanation of the cause of the collapse. An investigation was under way.

The 21-story-tall ocean liner was dry-docked at an Atlantic shipyard for finishing touches before its maiden voyage, scheduled for January.

Britain’s Cunard Lines, which operates the vessel and is owned by Miami-based Carnival Corp., said the voyage from Southampton, England, to Fort Lauderdale, Fla. would likely go ahead as planned.

“To the best of our knowledge, the ship will sail Jan. 12, as scheduled,” said Julie Davis, a spokeswoman in Miami for Cunard.

Cunard Lines issued a statement offering “thoughts and prayers” for the victims and their families. It made no comment on the accident itself.

French President Jacques Chirac was to visit the shipyard last night.

Workers and their families had been invited to visit the vessel over the weekend, and the gangway was installed Friday especially for their visit.

As they crowded onto the gangway, the structure collapsed, pulling down the scaffolding that was holding it up at one end.

“The passage gave way and we fell about 50 feet,” said Jason Schmitt, a worker who escaped without injury. “I fell with a minimum of 30 people,” he told France-2 television.

Thirteen people were killed, according to the Operational Fire and Rescue Center. Of the 32 people injured, 10 were hospitalized in serious condition. No children were injured, rescue workers said, retracting an earlier statement of one injured child.

Dozens of firefighters and rescue workers rushed to the scene, setting up medical units to treat the injured.

Philippe Bouquet-Nadeaud, the shipyard’s head of human resources, said the gangway was installed Friday by a company specialized in scaffolding for ships.

The accident occurred four days after the ship completed its second successful sea trial. The first was in September.

The Queen Mary II is the world’s largest passenger ship, 1,138 feet long and 238 feet high — as tall as a 21-story building. It weighs 150,000 tons.

It is also the most expensive, costing $800 million to build. Once completed, it will feature a planetarium, 22 elevators and the world’s largest floating library.

The inaugural voyage is sold out, and the whole season of sailings was opened to booking in August 2002, so many reservations have been made, said Miss Davis, the Cunard spokeswoman.

The Queen Mary II will top an illustrious list of massive passenger ships.

The Queen Elizabeth II ? whose trans-Atlantic route will be taken over by the new ship in April ? was built in 1967; the original Queen Mary was launched in 1934 and is now a hotel in Long Beach, California.

Royal Caribbean Cruises Ltd.’s Voyager-class ships, about 138,000 tons, are currently the largest cruise ships in service.

The Queen Mary II is being built by Alstom Marine’s Chantiers de l’Atlantique, and some 800 companies, mostly French, have been involved in the construction.

Chantiers de l’Atlantique says it has received at least 150,000 letters from people asking to come aboard for a look.

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