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French Launch Inquiry into <i>Queen Mary</i> Gangway Accident - 2003-11-17

French prosecutors have launched an inquiry into Saturday's collapse of a gangway leading to the new cruise ship, Queen Mary II, an accident that killed 15 people.

Prosecutor Jean-Marie Block says the probe is focusing on possible technical problems that caused the collapse. He says a judicial inquiry involves possible charges of manslaughter and involuntary injury.

He spoke to reporters in the western French port of Saint-Nazaire after thousands of town residents joined observances honoring the victims. Church bells tolled and the ship's fog horns blasted as thousands of people gathered for ceremonies on an esplanade facing the Queen Mary.

Saturday's accident occurred as more than 40 family members and friends of shipyard workers crowded onto the gangway for a visit to the still unfinished ship. The gangway collapsed, sending them plummeting to the concrete floor of a drydock below, killing the 15 and injuring 32 others.

The Queen Mary recently completed its sea trials. It is to sail on its maiden passenger voyage January 12 from Southampton, England, to Fort Lauderdale, Florida. The ship is the largest and, at $800 million, most expensive passenger liner ever built. It measures 345 meters in length and is as tall as a 23-story building.