Reports of a power failure on board the stricken Costa Concordia could have led to it losing navigational control and crashing into rocks, a sea industry expert said today.
The ship ran aground off the Italian coast on Saturday morning. Three people have been confirmed dead. The AFP news agency is reporting that 70 passengers are still missing as divers search the stricken vessel.
Malcolm Latarche, editor of global shipping magazine IHS Fairplay Solutions, said passenger reports of a power black-out and large boom noise indicated it could have suffered an engine room explosion.
Mr Latarche said it was possible the cruise experienced the same problem that saw the Queen Mary 2 (QM2) lose power in September 2010 as she was approaching Barcelona.
The expert said a power surge or "harmonic interference" could have caused a malfunction in the generators feeding the ship's six diesel electric engines which was not overcome by back-up systems.
This would have caused the ship to lose navigational power and steering control and veer off course, he said.
"I would say power failure caused by harmonic interference and then it can't propel straight or navigate and it hit rocks. The systems need to be reset and most of these things have automatic back up but it takes time for them to come in but there may be another cause."
Mr Latarche said the three people confirmed dead were probably among those who jumped overboard or were possibly crew in the engine room.
He praised the ship's master for trying to get the cruise ship, which he said also probably hit the harbour wall, close to shore in a bid to avoid using lifeboats.
Asked if the Concordia could have simply hit rocks or a sandbar, the expert said: "I would really doubt that's the case.
"If you are talking about a Filipino ferry that might be the case but with a cruise ship the officers are professional, the cream of the crop - they have 4,000 people on board, they are not playing about. They will have moved heaven and earth to make it safe. The engineers and crew are so heavily trained they will do everything possible."
Mr Latarche said no matter how well trained crew were in abandoning ship, once that message went out most passengers would inevitably panic.
Investigators, from Italy's version of the UK Maritime Accident Investigation Branch, will examine when the possible explosion occurred, why and how long it took the Concordia to come to a halt.
Mr Latarche said an extremely thorough investigation will look at possible repairs and faults the ship had in recent years.
"They will look at repair logs and fault reports over the last several months and years. It's very thorough because it has to be. They will look at all the experience of the crew and examine everyone's roles and qualifications."