Three people were killed and six are missing after a container ship crashed into a control tower in the northern Italian port city of Genoa late Tuesday. [embedgallery id=147188]
The tower, which was more than 160 feet high and looked much like the ones common at airports, collapsed after being struck by the prow of the ship, the Jolly Nero.
Two of the dead were Coast Guard officials and the third was a pilot for the port, Coast Guard spokesman Filippo Marini said. "We are continuing the search for the missing," he said.
The accident happened as staff were changing shifts, so more people than normal were in the tower.
"It's very difficult to explain how this could have happened because the ship should not have been where it was," the head of the Genoa Port Authority, Luigi Merlo, told local newspaper il Secolo XIX.
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Three people were believed to have been trapped in the lift of the control tower and may have fallen into the sea.
Television pictures early Wednesday showed that the only thing left where the tower had stood was a badly leaning metal-framed stairway. Divers from the fire department were shown in the water searching for bodies.
The cause of the crash was unclear. It occurred at about 11 p.m. GMT in calm conditions as the Jolly Nero, owned by local fleet operator Ignazio Messina and Co., was maneuvering out of the port with the assistance of tugboats, under the control of two pilots.
"A thing like this has never happened; we are devastated," said Stefano Messina, one of the directors of the family-owned operator, who spoke in tears near the crash site to a local TV channel after the accident.
The Jolly Nero is a 781-foot ship with a gross tonnage of 40,594 tonnes, according to the company's website.
Prosecutors boarded the vessel and have opened an investigation into the accident, according to daily il Secolo XIX.