TODAY   |  January 17, 2012

Cruise ship survivor: ‘So much chaos’

Maria Papa and her daughter, Melissa Goduti, who were both on the ill-fated cruise ship that ran aground off the coast of Italy, talk to TODAY’s Ann Curry about the harrowing and chaotic experience.

Share This:

This content comes from a Full-Text Transcript of the program.

Ms. MARIA PAPA (Survived Cruise Ship Disaster): Good morning.

CURRY: So I want to get your response to the CEO of the company in his discussion in calling the -- about the cruise saying he's grateful for the skill and behavior of the crew, that the crew performed very well. What is your reaction to that?

Ms. GODUTI: My reaction is that the crew was never informed and I can't blame the crew because they were never -- they did not know anything. When we -- everything happened they just were telling us to go back to our room. I was trying to find out where are the life boats , does anyone speak English? They did not give us any information whatsoever. They just kept telling us to go back to our room. What...

CURRY: And this was particularly frightening for you, Maria , because as I understand it you don't know how to swim.

Ms. PAPA: Correct, I do not know how to swim. And there was no direction whatsoever. I think if the captain took more of a hand on it then I think that the crew would have been able to understand what was going on. But they weren't getting any announcements.

CURRY: He also said that the cruise line rigorously trains its staff for emergencies, that they hold life boat drills every other week. You saw one of these drills on Saturday before the accident. How would you describe the drill ?

Ms. GODUTI: We actually never saw a drill .

CURRY: Oh, you never saw a drill ?

Ms. PAPA: No.

Ms. GODUTI: No, we never saw a drill . Our drill was scheduled -- we walked into our stateroom and I looked at the itinerary and it says the next day 5 PM that's when our drill was. So we've never seen a drill .

CURRY: And you -- and you bring this up to some degree because you've been on cruise ships before.

Ms. GODUTI: Yes.

CURRY: And you had a very different experience on some of these other cruise ships ?

Ms. GODUTI: Yes. I mean, within one hour of getting on the boat you have to go -- it's mandatory to go to this drill . They take your sea pass, they scan it, and they make sure that every single passenger was there. And they make sure and they tell you that if anything was to happen that you are going to scan your sea pass and we're going to know who got off the ship and who's still on the ship so they know who to look for. And here they didn't know who to look for and they're sending their crew members back on to find people who they don't even -- they've never accounted for anyone.

CURRY: So you're describing chaos, essentially.

Ms. GODUTI: Yes.

Ms. PAPA: Yes.

CURRY: Give us a feeling of what it was like. How were the crew members behaving?

Ms. PAPA: The crew members were running around like the actual passengers. They had no idea what was going on, in my eyes. And they were just running around. They couldn't answer any questions to anyone. There wasn't -- there wasn't anybody speaking English. There was just -- there was so much chaos. We went to go get on one boat when they finally sound the alarm and the door would not open on that life boat . So Melissa grabbed my hand and we went to the next boat.

CURRY: So basically you took your own rescue into your own hands, it sounds like.

Ms. PAPA: Yes.

CURRY: When you hear that the captain had left the ship, that he did not know that there were fatalities, as we just heard in this report, what's your reaction?

Ms. GODUTI: Well, I didn't know that until we saw it on the news. And it's just -- I mean, it's astonishing that someone would actually do something like that. I mean, there was no one who was in charge of our life boat . We had one individual that we found that spoke English, she was from Australia , she was a dancer, and she ended up taking off and leaving because she said she needed to find her friends. So there's no one who's even from Costa Cruise Lines that said, 'OK, stay at this life boat , this is what you're doing. And you're going to get to the island.' When we get to the island wherever we are -- I mean, they told we are -- we are in Nice , France . They told us we were in Savona . The crew members didn't know. The crew...

CURRY: Where you were?

Ms. GODUTI: Where you were. They had no clue. No one informed them. They said if the captain had -- it was an emergency he would sound the alarms. It took an hour and a half for him to sound an alarm.

CURRY: Do you just blame the captain or do you blame the cruise line itself, Maria ?

Ms. PAPA: Well, the -- I believe that the cruise line should have been more prepared. They actually even had taken our passports when we got on and gave us a red little ticket with a number on it that wasn't even filled in with our name. And we asked for a copy of our passport because we didn't have this experience when we were on our cruise in the Royal Caribbean Cruise Line , and they asked us -- we said we need a copy of our passport and they said, 'We'll give it to you tomorrow morning.' And as far as the -- everything, the cruise people were in line for information. I don't think anything was organized, I really do not. And it's a very scary feeling. At one point I actually seen a bunch of crew members running past and they -- it was about 15 or 20 of them. And I said to my daughter, 'Is that the captain?' And she's like, 'Mom, I don't think so.' But...

CURRY: Well, obviously this -- there's much more to be investigated in this story. Thank you so much . We're so glad you're both safe.

Ms. GODUTI: Thanks.

CURRY: Thanks for being with us this morning.

Ms. PAPA: Thank you.

CURRY: Thank you, Melissa and Maria .