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Investigation under way after waves kill cruise passengers

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Witness to a deadly wave
  • Cruise ship was hit by three "abnormal" waves, each about 26 feet (8 meters) high
  • Maltese government officials begin investigation
  • German, Italian passengers killed when waves smashed windows
  • Fourteen other people injured in the incident which occurred off Cabo de San Sebastian

Madrid, Spain (CNN) -- An investigation was under way aboard a cruise ship in Barcelona's port on Friday after 26-foot waves crashed into a cruise ship and killed two people off northeast Spain, officials said.

"We are extending all cooperation to all relevant authorities. The captain has been cooperating and is aboard the ship," said Michael Maratheftis, spokesman for the Greece-based Louis Cruise Lines. Its vessel the Louis Majesty suffered the casualties and damage on Wednesday.

Two male passengers -- a German and an Italian -- were killed and 14 other people were injured.

Maltese government officials arrived in Spain on Thursday to lead the investigation, because the Greece-based vessel flies a Maltese flag, a Spanish government spokeswoman said.

"It's a weather investigation," Maratheftis said, adding that the crew's actions after the three "abnormal" waves struck the ship were crucial in preventing further casualties or damage.

The waves smashed five windows on deck five in public areas -- on the forward part, or bow, of the 14-deck ship. Two male passengers -- a German and an Italian -- were killed, Maratheftis said.

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"It was a shock. It was unexpected," Vito Sgobba, the cruise ship's hotel manager, told CNN in a phone interview from Barcelona.

Video: Two killed by giant wave
Video: Louis Majesty docks in Spain

The first wave, Sgobba said, pushed down the ship's bow, and the second wave soon after struck the front of deck five.

Sgobba was on an upper deck and quickly rushed to the scene with other crew members, who evacuated the injured to the ship's hospital. Several doctors and nurses traveling aboard as passengers also helped, he said.

The two deceased apparently died at the scene, and did not make it to the ship's hospital, Sgobba said.

The victims were a German man, 69, from North Rhine Westphalia, and an Italian man, 52, who was traveling with his family, their respective governments told CNN.

Fourteen others were treated aboard the ship for light injuries, but were hospitalized as a precaution when the ship returned to Barcelona on Wednesday night, Maratheftis said.

By Friday, only two of the injured remained hospitalized, and they were to be released over the weekend, Maratheftis said.

The ship's owners on Thursday repatriated most of the 1,350 passengers from 27 nations -- including Americans, Dutch, Germans and Italians -- aboard flights from Barcelona.

Only 200 passengers remained in Barcelona early Friday, for their convenience, Maratheftis said.

Dutch passenger Tom Berg told CNN that he had been in the hardest-hit area of the ship just five minutes before the waves struck.

"All people crying from that side, because there was a lot of water. We felt the wind going through the boat. After a few minutes, the cry ... calling for a doctor and we realize it was more serious than we expected," Berg said at the Barcelona airport, while awaiting a flight.

Another Dutch passenger, Elly Maat, said she was on deck six, one level above the worst damage. The second wave broke the ship's windows, and some passengers donned life vests, she said.

"A lot of people were very angry and children were crying," Maat said at the airport.

The 580 crew members remain with the ship, which is under repair. The next scheduled cruise has been canceled, but plans are for the ship to sail from Barcelona to Genoa on March 10, and to resume its normal cruise operations from there on March 12, Maratheftis said.

CNN's Al Goodman, Stephanie Halasz, Ben Brumfield and Chad Myers contributed to this report.