In a chaotic scene eerily evocative of the Titanic - which struck an iceberg and sank a century ago this April - at least five people have died and 15 remained missing Sunday after a state-of-the-art cruise ship hit an unidentified reef or rock and toppled over just off Italy's Tuscan coast on the evening of Friday the 13th.
The Italian Coast Guard said its divers found two more bodies aboard the Costa Concordia Sunday.
SLIDESHOW: Cruise Ship Accident
Costa Cruises issued a statement at 4:30 p.m. ET Sunday that pointed a preliminary finger at the captain's actions. The cruise line also wrote that its staff members are "deeply saddened" by the incident and they are "working with investigators" to find out what went wrong.
"While the investigation is ongoing, preliminary indications are that there may have been significant human error on the part of the ship's master, Captain Francesco Schettino, which resulted in these grave consequences," the statement reads. "The route of the vessel appears to have been too close to the shore, and in handling the emergency the captain appears not to have followed standard Costa procedures."
An Italian prosecutor confirmed allegations from passengers that the captain abandoned the stricken liner before all the passengers had left the ship, which was carrying 4,200 passengers and crew.
Schettino is in custody and being investigated for manslaughter in addition to abandoning ship.
A South Korean couple on their honeymoon were rescued late Saturday in the unsubmerged part of the liner when firefighters heard their screams.
As confusion swirled over the cause of the dramatic accident, questions about ship safety, crew preparedness and evacuation procedures are roiling the waters of a booming industry that drew an estimated 16 million passengers last year. Italy's Costa, a mass-market line that caters to an international clientele, is owned by Miami-based Carnival Corporation, the world's largest cruise company.
The U.S. State Department says 125 Americans were on board, but there were no reports of injuries after the ship, in calm seas and good weather, struck an object and took on water from a 160-foot-long gash, causing the vessel to list and keel over.
Cruise experts emphasized the rarity of the accident, which is the worst major cruise ship incident in modern history.
But survivors described a panic-filled evacuation as plates and glasses crashed and they crawled along darkened, upended hallways trying to reach safety.
There was no lifeboat drill after the ship's departure from Citavecchia (Rome), and passengers complained that the crew failed to give instructions on how to evacuate and delayed lowering the lifeboats until the ship was listing too heavily for many of them to be released.
Some passengers jumped into the sea while others waited to be plucked to safety by helicopters, and some lifeboats had to be cut down with an ax.
Under U.S. Coast Guard and the International Maritime Organization's Safety of Life at Sea regulations, cruise ships must conduct a safety drill within 24 hours of sailing with instructions on the use of life jackets and how and where to muster in an emergency.
But passengers are not required to attend, and cruise lines vary in how quickly they hold the drill and how stringently they enforce passenger participation.
In the U.S., for example, Royal Caribbean and sister lines Celebrity and Azamara, like most U.S.-based lines, conduct all lifeboat drills before departure, says Royal Caribbean spokeswoman Michele Nadeem.
But, says cruise expert and guidebook author Fran Golden, while "cruise lines make a good effort to make people pay attention during drills, many don't."
Golden says another potential problem on ships such as the Costa Concordia, which draw passengers from many different countries, is the fact that all announcements are made in multiple languages, which "can be a bit of a recipe for chaos."
"Cruise lines for years have been saying the (sinking of the) Titanic could never happen again because of all the safety procedures put in place," says Golden. "It seems pretty clear there was a'perfect storm' of things that went wrong here."
Costa's president, Gianni Onorato, said in a statement Saturday that the Concordia's captain had the liner on its regular, weekly route when it struck a reef about 10 p.m. local time on Friday night. Italian coast guard officials said the circumstances were still unclear, but that the ship hit an unknown obstacle.
Despite some early reports that the captain was dining with passengers when his ship crashed into the reef, he was on the bridge, Onorato said.
The Associated Press reports Schettino is being held in a jail in Grosseto, Italy, until next week, when a judge will decide whether he should be released or formally put under arrest. The chief prosecutor in the Tuscan city of Grosseto, Francesco Verusio, was quoted by the ANSA news agency as telling reporters that the captain "very ineptly got close" to the vacation island of Giglio, about 18 miles off the Italian coast, the AP reports.
"The ship struck a reef that got stuck inside the left side, making it (the ship) lean over and take on a lot of water in the space of two, three minutes," he said.
There were no firm indications that anyone was trapped under the sunken ship. Rescuers carried out extensive searches of the waters near the ship for hours and "we would have seen bodies," said Coast Guard Capt. Cosimo Nicastro.
Many passengers complained the crew didn't give them good directions on how to evacuate and once the emergency became clear, delayed lowering the lifeboats until the ship was listing too heavily for many to be released.
"It was so unorganized, our evacuation drill was scheduled for 5 p.m." on Saturday, said Melissa Goduti, 28, of Wallingford, Conn., who had departed on the Mediterranean cruise on Friday. "We had joked 'What if something had happened today?'"
"Have you seen Titanic? That's exactly what it was," said Valerie Ananias, 31, a schoolteacher from Los Angeles who was traveling with her sister and parents on the first of two cruises around the Mediterranean. They all bore dark red bruises on their knees from the desperate crawl they endured along nearly vertical hallways and stairwells, trying to reach rescue boats.
"We were crawling up a hallway, in the dark, with only the light from the life vest strobe flashing," her mother, Georgia Ananias, 61, said. "We could hear plates and dishes crashing, people slamming against walls."
She choked up as she recounted the moment when an Argentine couple handed her their 3-year-old daughter, unable to keep their balance as the ship lurched to the side and the family found themselves standing on a wall. "He said 'take my baby,'" Mrs. Ananias said, covering her mouth with her hand as she teared up. "I grabbed the baby. But then I was being pushed down. I didn't want the baby to fall down the stairs. I gave the baby back. I couldn't hold her.
"I thought that was the end and I thought they should be with their baby," she said.
"I wonder where they are," daughter Valerie whispered.
The family said they were some of the last off the ship, forced to shimmy along a rope down the exposed side of the ship to a waiting rescue vessel below.
Some 30 people were reported injured, most of them suffering only bruises, but at least two people were reported in grave condition. Some passengers, apparently in panic, had jumped off the boat into the sea, witnesses said.
The evacuees were taking refuge in schools, hotels, and a church on Giglio.
Officials say the captain appears to have taken the vessel close to shore in a dangerous manner, Reuters said.
"There was a dangerous close approach which very probably caused the accident, although it will be for the investigation to establish that fully," coast guard spokesman Luciano Nicastro told SkyTG24. He said the captain then attempted a safety maneuver, setting anchor and bringing the ship closer to the shore to facilitate a rescue.
A top official from an international maritime union representing 23,000 workers says the disaster signals a need for a review of all cruise ships because their enormous size raises concerns about their safety.
"In this, the centenary of the loss of the Titanic, major nostalgia industry is already in full flow, but it is essential that everyone recognizes that the Titanic offers lessons for today and that there are contemporary resonances that should not be lost," says Mark Dickinson, general secretary of Nautilus International based in Britain.
In particular, he cited concerns about the size of modern cruise ships and the need for better evacuation plans.
"Many ships are now effectively small towns at sea, and the sheer number of people on board raises serious questions about evacuation," Dickinson said. "The growth in the size of such ships has also raised questions about their water-tight integrity and fire-fighting protection."
Costa defended the actions of the crew and says it is cooperating with the investigation.
The Concordia had a previous accident in Italian waters. In 2008, when strong winds buffeted Palermo, the cruise ship banged against the Sicilian port's dock, and suffered damage but no one was injured, ANSA said. In February 2010, another Costa ship, the Europa, hit a pier in Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt, killing three crew members.
Despite the fact that Costa draws few American passengers, the fact that it is a modern vessel will impact cruise sales on this side of the Atlantic as well, at least temporarily, said Mike Driscoll, editor of the industry publication Cruise Week.
"From what travel agents are telling me, that horrifying image (of the massive ship on its side) is going to turn the cruise industry on its side, too," said Driscoll.
Contributing: Bart Jansen in Washington, The Associated Press