LA PALMA, Canary Islands (AP) – A lifeboat being used on a safety drill aboard a cruise ship in Spain's Canary Islands fell about 65 feet (20 meters) into a port on Sunday when a cable snapped, trapping crew members beneath it and killing five of them, officials said.
None of the hundreds of passengers aboard the British-operated vessel were involved in the accident, which also injured three crew members, said the Canary Islands port authority.
Divers raced to the lifeboat, which had hit the water upside down, recovering four bodies and trying without success to revive a fifth crewman who had stopped breathing, the authority said.
Thomson Cruises confirmed the accident and the casualties aboard its Thomson Majesty ship on the island of La Palma, saying the three injured crewmen were not badly hurt.
The ship docked at the island's port of Santa Cruz in the morning, after arriving there from the neighboring island of Las Palmas de Gran Canaria. It was due to depart at 3 p.m. for Funchal on the mid-Atlantic island of Madeira with 1,498 passengers and 594 crew aboard, the authority said.
At 10:30 a.m. a drill consisting of lowering a lifeboat with crew members aboard began.
About an hour later, when the lifeboat was being hoisted back up to the deck, a cable holding it snapped and a hook holding the lifeboat on a second cable gave way, sending the lifeboat plunging into the port upside down, the authority said in a statement.
An alarm was sounded and port authorities were alerted. The captain of the cruise ship called for the divers who arrived at the capsized lifeboat.
The dead crewmen included three Indonesians, a Filipino and a Ghanian, authorities said. The three injured crew members were taken by ambulance to a hospital in La Palma and the nationality of only one of them was immediately known: Greek.
Local authorities of La Palma canceled Carnival festivities that had been due to be held on the island Sunday, but said they would go ahead as planned on Monday.
Passengers onboard the ship have been posting their condolences to the crewmembers on Thomson's Facebook page. They have also been expressing concerns about the lifeboat out of action and asking for safety tests to be carried out on the cables holding the others:
One passenger John Bulpin writes:
“We are on the ship and understand that the captain is contemplating continuing the cruise taking life boat 10 out of service as well, thus 2 lifeboats down. Very concerned as if a lifeboat with capacity of over 150 persons fails with 8 persons on board how can they be safe !!! Every cable needs to be unwound and checked by an expert first. Safety first please, learn by our mistakes. RIP to the crew involved.”
A Thomson spokesperson responds on Facebook: “Passengers that were assigned to the life-boat that is now out of action have been re-assigned to other boats, and will take part in a drill to ensure they are aware of the new procedures.
“The second lifeboat you mention remains fully functionally but will not be used due to maritime law stating that we must have symmetrical boats.
"We have more than enough lifeboat and life-raft capacity for all on board, should they be needed, and all of the lifeboats and their launching apparatus are in the process of being checked by ship's staff and by investigators. We will not sail unless the investigators confirm that they are safe.”
Thomson added that it is working closely with the ship owners and managers, Cyprus-based Louis Cruise Lines, as well as relevant authorities to determine the cause of the incident and provide assistance to those affected. Cruise Critic is awaiting word on if and when Majesty will be allowed to leave the port.
Thomson Majesty is currently stationed in the Canaries, where it sails week-long cruises that visit La Gomera, Fuerteventura and Tenerife, among other ports.
Associated Press writers Harold Heckle in Madrid, and Sylvia Hui in London, contributed to this report.