Saint-Nazaire (France), Nov. 16 (Reuters): The death toll in the Queen Mary 2 shipyard accident rose to 15 today as family members of victims gathered to identify the dead at a makeshift mortuary near the world’s biggest cruise ship.
Visitors on a sightseeing tour on Saturday plunged about 25 metres (80 feet) to the ground when a dockside gangway gave way.
A spokeswoman for shipyard owner Alstom said 15 people had died in the fall and another 32 were injured. Earlier company officials had put the toll at 16, but they later corrected that figure.
Two of the injured had now left the hospital and one victim remained in serious condition. A 10-year-old boy was among those with light injuries, but there were no children reported among the fatalities.
Alstom officials said the dead included workers who had helped build the liner, their friends and family, and employees of a cleaning company.
A temporary mortuary was set up in a shipyard cafeteria near the giant ship, which is in the final stages of construction at Alstom's Chantiers de 'Atlantique yard in Saint-Nazaire and completed sea trials off Brittany last week.
”My brother worked on the boat,” said a 50-year-old man who identified himself only as Pierre.“He was crushed in the fall. It's worse than death by sickness.”
President Jacques Chirac and Prime Minister Jean-Pierre Raffarin were both due to visit the site later on Sunday.
Named after the opulent 1930s Cunarder, the cruise ship is being built for Carnival Corp's Cunard Line at a cost of about $800 million, the most expensive liner ever. It is as long as four football fields and stands as high as a 23-storey building.
The gangway that collapsed was put in place on Friday by specialist French firm Endel, a unit of French utilities giant Suez.
”We are ready to cooperate with investigators,” Philippe Venet, regional director for Endel, told Reuters.“We've put up scaffolding for hundreds of ships during their construction phase and we have never experienced a situation like this.”
The original Queen Mary ocean liner entered service on Cunard's prestigious Atlantic route in 1936, becoming one of the best-known ships of the golden age of liners.
Britain's Queen Elizabeth is due to officially launch the new ship on its maiden voyage from Southampton, England, to Fort Lauderdale, Florida, on January 12.
The ship has an onboard planetarium and art gallery and will carry about 3,000 passengers on its first 15-day cruise. A ticket for a top cabin for the event will cost around $40,000.
The accident is the latest blow for struggling Alstom, which nearly collapsed earlier this year due to a cash shortage before the French government saved it with a controversial bailout.
Its marine unit employs one in 10 residents of Saint-Nazaire, a modest port town where Hitler based submarines during World War Two and which was heavily bombed.
”No matter where you are in the town, the shipyard is omnipresent,” said Jean Garrec, an Alstom Marine retiree. ”Saint-Nazaire exists to the outside world thanks to the shipyard, and when a tragedy like this occurs, everyone's heart is touched.”