'Don't panic' says the captain... in six languages

MARSEILLE - "The captain was saying in five, six languages 'Don't panic'" recalled 74-year-old Joel Pavageau who was with his wife in one of the ship's seven restaurants when disaster struck.

The room had already been plunged into darkness.

"I got the feeling I was living my last moment," he said.

Huddled up in emergency blankets, survivors of the shipwreck of the Costa Concordia cruise liner off the Italian coast arrived in the southern Mediterranean port of Marseille late Saturday.

They were angry, exhausted - but glad to be alive.

Pavageau was eating dinner with his wife when the luxury cruise liner hit rocks that tore a 70- to 100-metre (230- to 330-foot) gash in its hull.

"They told us to stay seated, even as the boat was sinking," he said.

"They should have given us the order to evacuate more quickly. They waited 45 minutes. That seems very long when you are in the dark."

Another passenger, a woman in her 50s who identified herself only as Elizabeth, said she was watching a show on the massive cruise ship late Friday when the ship hit the rocks.

"There was a very loud noise and the room suddenly tilted," she said.

The evacuation, she said, was a mess, with the launching of the lifeboats poorly organised.

And when she finally got ashore on Gigli Island off the west coast of Italy, there was no one to taken them in hand, she said.

She took refuge in a local bistro and it was only when French friends called her on her mobile that she knew where she had washed up.

"We lost everything," she said, still dressed in the evening gown she was wearing on Friday evening when disaster struck.

"We are tired - but happy to be alive."

Stephane, another passenger, denounced the lack of help from the crew.

"We never saw an officer of the Costa, it's not normal, the staff were saying 'We weren't ready for that'," he said.

"They couldn't even go fetch the life jackets," said Virginie, his companion.

Around 250 of the cruise liner's 4,230 or so passengers arrived in Marseille in five buses Saturday evening.

Waiting for them was a team of around 50 specialists from the emergency services and the Red Cross, ready to offer health checks, help with paperwork - and psychological counselling.

The authorities in France's Alpes-Maritimes region, many of the English, Chinese, Russian and Spanish passengers had been flown home Saturday out of Nice airport.

Three people have so far been confirmed as dead: two French passengers and a Peruvian crewman.

Another 41 people are still unaccounted for, said Grosseto governor Giuseppe Linardi and port officials, although they are hoping they have made their way to safety without having checked in with the authorities.

Italian prosecutors have arrested Francesco Schettino, the captain of the Costa Concordia, and first officer Ciro Ambrosio.

According to Italian media reports they face possible charges of multiple homicide and having abandoned ship before all passengers were rescued.

Local Fire chief Ennio Aquilino told AFP that his men had "plucked 100 people from the water and saved around 60 others who were trapped in the boat."

At least 42 are injured, including two seriously - a woman with a blow to the head and a man struck in the spine.

Medical sources said most had broken limbs and suffered from hypothermia.