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Italian, Portuguese Ships Collide

February 14, 2000

ROME (AP) _ Two cargo ships collided off Italy’s southern coast early Monday, killing at least three Spanish sailors. Ten others were missing and feared dead.

Helicopters and rescue boats were searching for survivors Monday evening, but coast guard officials said the chances of finding anyone alive hours later were extremely slim.

``It depends on the temperature of the water, what they were wearing and whether they were able to grab onto something,″ said Angelo Pinetti, a spokesman for the coast guard in Crotone, in the Calabria region at the toe of the Italian peninsula.

Initial reports said the Italian ship Espresso Catania and the Madeira Islands-registered Zafir rammed each other about four miles south of the port town of Santa Caterina in Calabria.

The Zafir split apart and sank within minutes, while the Espresso Catania stayed afloat. Twenty crew members and two passengers on the Espresso Catania were escorted safely ashore.

Fourteen Spanish sailors were believed to be on the Zafir. Three died, one was saved and 10 were missing. Pinetti said the Zafir’s captain was among the victims.

The Zafir, carrying material to make cement, had just left a nearby Italian port. The Italian vessel was on its way from northern Italy to Catania, Sicily, with a load of trucks.

The cause of the accident was not immediately clear. Weather conditions appeared to be good, and there was no fog.

Officials at the Madeira Islands’ shipping registry said the Zafir was owned by the Panama-based company Buckland Consulting Inc.