Divers resumed their search for bodies on board the stricken Costa Concordia on Thursday as salvage workers sought to prevent the ship's 2,380 tons of fuel from leaking into the Tuscan marine sanctuary where the vessel ran aground last week.
AFP - Divers combed the wreck of an Italian cruise liner for a sixth day Thursday in an increasingly desperate search for survivors, as salvagers worked to prevent an environmental disaster.
The owner of the giant 17-deck vessel, Genoa-based Costa Crociere, also sought to distance itself further from the ship's captain Francesco Schettino, announcing that it would be a plaintiff in the case against him.
Marco De Luca, the company's lawyer, said Costa -- Europe's biggest cruise operator -- had also officially suspended him from his duties.
Captain 'jumps ship' before passengers
The captain of the Costa Concordia left the stricken cruise liner "well before" the last passengers were evacuated, the prosecutor in charge of investigating the disaster said Sunday.Asked on the news channel SkyTG24 whether captain Francesco Schettino, arrested Saturday for multiple homicide, had left the liner "well before all the passengers were evacuated," prosecutor Francesco Verusio replied: "Unfortunately I can confirm that."The prosecutor also indicated that the ship "was not on the right course", adding that the captain was on the bridge and "therefore responsible for operations."He said the possible responsibility of other persons apart from the captain and his number two, Ciro Ambrosio, was also being investigated.Asked whether the crew were not properly prepared, Verusio said "It was rather the system of command which did not function as it should have done."Italian media reports have said the captain was on shore around 11.40 pm (2240 GMT) Friday while the last passengers were not evacuated until 0500 GMT Saturday.Ennio Aquilino, in charge of the rescue operation, told AFP Saturday: "The last person we took off the ship around 6 am (0500 GMT) had a broken leg."
Rescuers have so far recovered 11 bodies and 21 more people are missing out of the more than 4,200 from around the world who had been on board the Costa Concordia when it hit rocks off the Tuscan island of Giglio on Friday.
In transcripts of his interrogation by prosecutors on Tuesday that were leaked to Italian daily Corriere della Sera, Schettino defended his actions but admitted he had made "a mistake" in sailing so close to the shore.
Schettino, 52, is under house arrest at his home near Naples. He has been accused of multiple manslaughter and of abandoning ship, but has not yet been formally charged -- a process that could take months under Italian law.
"I was sailing on sight (and not using the ship's instruments) because I know the area well and I've done the same manoeuvre three or four times. But this time I turned too late," the captain was quoted as saying.
Schettino added, however, that after the impact he performed a complex manoeuvre that saved lives by steering the ship towards the island's port.
He also said that he "fell over inside a lifeboat" when the boat pitched over. He said he could not return on board after leaving the ship "because the space was obstructed" by boats that had come to help the rescue.
The investigating judge who questioned Schettino in the town of Grosseto said he had made "no serious attempt" to return to the ship after leaving it.
In a damning transcript of a recording of a conversation between Schettino and a port official after the disaster struck, the captain is heard ignoring repeated orders to return to the ship and help in the evacuation.
The rescue operation, which was halted Wednesday after the half-submerged ship shifted while divers were inside, resumed at first light on Thursday.
"We have divers going down now. We will then use the micro-explosives to open more holes. They will enter inside the ship and search for more people" in the 114,500-ton vessel, coast guard spokesman Filippo Marini told reporters.
Eight of the victims have been formally identified: four French tourists, one Italian, one Spaniard as well as two members of the crew -- one Peruvian and one Hungarian, who was a violinist on board.
The crisis unit overseeing the rescue confirmed the identification of two of the French victims on Thursday and the foreign ministry in Paris said it was awaiting news on two more French citizens missing.
Kevin Rebello from Mumbai, whose brother Russel worked as a waiter on the ship and is one of the missing, told AFP: "My brother stayed to help others... It should have been the captain who left the ship last."
"The fact (that the captain) left early is something I just cannot get over. I'm very angry," said Rebello, who has travelled to the tiny island to see the rescue operation for himself.
"If it had happened in another country, he would not be home now sipping coffee with his mum, he would be in prison. It's not Disneyland," said Rebello, adding that his brother is married with a three-year-old daughter.
The 2,380 tons of fuel on board the ship have alarmed environmentalists worried about the potential impact of any leak on this pristine nature reserve and marine sanctuary -- a major holiday spot off the shores of Tuscany.
A Dutch salvage company said it was ready to pump out fuel and diesel from the tanks before winds pick up later, with widespread concern among rescue teams that choppy seas could again force a suspension of operations.
According to the latest forecasts, strong winds are expected on Thursday evening. Italy is set to declare a state of emergency in the area and Environment Minister Corrado Clini has said the risk of a spill is "very high".
Salvage workers say there is currently no danger of large scale pollution off the island of Giglio but admit there is still a risk of spillage, particularly as the pumping operation is expected to take around four weeks.
The Costa Concordia was on the first day of its seven-day cruise and passengers were settling down to dinner when tragedy struck.
Costa Crociere said it was contacting each survivor individually to express regret and confirm reimbursements and compensation for expenses.
Some passengers have said they plan to launch a class action lawsuit.
Date created : 2012-01-19