Woman's body found on wrecked Costa Concordia
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Divers scouring Italy’s wrecked Costa Concordia found a woman’s body on board Saturday, raising the death toll to 12. Searchers also recovered a hard disk with possible security footage that could shed light on the captain’s role in the accident.
AFP - Divers salvaged Saturday a hard disk from Italy's capsized cruise ship with video footage that could shed light on the captain's actions, as another body was pulled from the wreckage.
The discovery of a woman's body towards the stern of the ship brought the death toll to 12, as hopes dwindled of finding someone who may have miraculously survived in air pockets a week after the tragedy.
Still, officials said rescuers would continue throughout the night to scour previously inaccessible parts of the ship eight days after it hit rocks and keeled over on to its side off Italy's northwest coast.
Divers working for Italian prosecutors probing the role captain Francesco Schettino played in the disaster retrieved a hard disk which may have video footage from security cameras on the ship's bridge, media reports said.
Schettino is being investigated for multiple manslaughter, abandoning ship and causing a shipwreck, after he steered the boat too close to the Tuscan island of Giglio. He is under house arrest.
The vessel's owner, Costa Crociere, has said the company was warned too late of the scale of the disaster, though Schettino has disputed their account.
He fiercely denies abandoning ship, claiming he lost his footing and fell off as the vessel lurched onto its side.
The captain, who has been called Italy's "most hated man" by one Italian newspaper, also denies reports that he was on the bridge with Domnica Cemortan, a 25-year-old Moldovan ballerina.
Prosecutors hope the hard disk, a black box and a safe retrieved earlier may reveal who was with the the captain when the accident happened and who was alerted.
As for the identity of the 12th body, a police official said the families of the 21 missing people would have to wait for "DNA tests now to identify the victim after a week in the water."
The discovery came hours after Italy's civil protection agency took command at the site on the tiny Giglio island, and promised to continue the search and rescue mission despite the risk of an oil spill.
The agency's head, Franco Gabrielli, said he had asked a technical committee for a fresh analysis of the "incredibly complex" situation at the doomed ship, holding 2,380 tonnes of fuel oil that could cause an environmental disaster.
"We have put no time limit on the search. We hope to combine the rescue mission with the removal of the oil but will wait for the findings before taking a decision," he said. The committee is to report by the end of Sunday.
"We are also drawing up maps which will trace the last known movements of the missing people, based on eye-witness testimonies, in the hope that searching specific zones might speed up the search," he said.
Gabrielli said he had also called for a medical opinion on how long it would be possible for someone to survive inside the toppled boat, where dangerous conditions were drastically slowing the search.
The cabins under the waterline of the vast 17-deck Costa Concordia were being searched with micro-cameras, he said. "Each search takes 45 minutes".
The navy on Saturday blew new holes into the side of the liner to search areas where panicked people may have gathered after the order to abandon ship, but authorities said the chance of finding someone alive was fading.
"We would need a miracle. Even if there was an air pocket because the ship is tilted, in these conditions, with the freezing water, the chances of finding someone alive are now remote," coast guard spokesman Cosimo Nicastro told AFP.
Priest Lorenzo Pasquotti, who sheltered passengers in his church in the hours after the disaster, told AFP on Saturday that the divers were "doing a heroic job" and had even salvaged a Madonna statue from the ship's chapel.
He said he would be holding a mass on Sunday and urged relatives of missing people who were still on the island to attend.
The liner crashed into rocks off Giglio on the night of January 13 with 4,229 people from 60 countries on board and began to keel over just as passengers were settling down for supper at the start of their cruise.
Italian consumer rights' association Codacons said Saturday it is launching a class action suit along with two US law firms against the cruise ship operator Carnival for at least $160,000 (123,000 euros) per passenger.
"We want to get at least $160,000 compensation per passenger, but it could be from two to three times that much considering the fear suffered, the holidays ruined and the serious risks endured," co-head Marco Ramadori said.
The Tuscan archipelago where Giglio is located is Europe's biggest marine sanctuary and a popular holiday spot with pristine sandy beaches.
"The water is already polluted. Apart from the fuel oil, just think of all the other substances that are now in the water -- such as enough cleaning liquids to serve the 4,000 people on board," Gabrielli said.
Twelve people have been confirmed dead in the tragedy so far, including four French nationals, one Italian and a Spaniard among the passengers and two crew members -- a Peruvian waiter and a Hungarian violinist.