GIGLIO, January 15, 2012 (Reuters)
GIGLIO, January 15, 2012 (Reuters)
Divers found the bodies of two elderly men inside a capsized cruiseliner on Sunday, raising to five the death toll after the luxury vessel foundered and dramatically keeled over off Italy’s coast.
Teams were painstakingly checking the interior spaces of the partly submerged Italian liner Costa Concordia for 15 people still unaccounted for after the huge ship, with 4,229 passengers and crew on board, was holed by a rock Friday night.
A day after the disaster, rescuers plucked a South Korean honeymoon couple and an injured crewmember alive from the wreck, lying on its side close to the beautiful island of Giglio off Italy’s west coast.
The captain of the 114,500-tonne ship, Francesco Schettino, was arrested on charges of manslaughter, causing a shipwreck and abandoning ship, Italian police said. Some 64 people were injured in the accident.
Investigators were working through evidence from the equivalent of the “black boxes” carried on aeroplanes, to try to establish the precise sequence of events behind the accident, which occurred in calm seas and shallow waters.
Searching the vast ship for survivors was like combing through a small town – but one tilted on its side, largely in darkness, partly underwater and full of floating debris.
In the early afternoon, scuba divers looking for survivors found the bodies of two men at an evacuation assembly point in the submerged part of the ship, coastguard officials said.
The bodies of two French tourists and a Peruvian crew member were found Saturday.
The discovery of the bodies Sunday dampened earlier euphoria when a helicopter lifted off injured chief purser Manrico Gianpetroni, hours after rescuers made voice contact with him deep inside the stricken, multi-storey vessel.
Gianpetroni, who had a broken leg, was winched up from the ship on a stretcher and taken to hospital.
“I never lost hope of being saved. It was a 36-hour nightmare,” he told reporters.
Passengers compared the disaster to the sinking of the Titanic, and described people leaping into the sea and fighting over lifejackets in panic when the ship hit a rock and ran aground as they sat down for dinner Friday night.
The vast hulk of the 290-metre-long ship loomed over the little port of Giglio, a picturesque island in a maritime nature reserve off the Tuscan coast. There was large gash in its side and divers were able to swim into the wreck through the hole.
The specialist diving teams faced a complex task as they worked their way through the warren of cabins on the ship – a floating resort that boasted a huge spa, seven restaurants, bars, cinemas and discotheques.
“Getting inside the ship is really difficult and dangerous,” said Majko Aldone, a one of the specialist team of divers who have been entering cabins through open portholes or by smashing through the glass.
“There are various obstacles, sheets, mattresses, nets which have broken free and are spread out all over the areas we’re searching,” he said.
Paolo Tronca, a local fire department official, said the search would go on “for 24 hours a day as long as we have to” and that rescue workers were using sniffer dogs in the section of the ship above water.
As the search continued, there were demands for explanations of why the vessel had come so close to the shore and bitter complaints about how long it took to evacuate the terrified passengers.
State prosecutor Francesco Verusio said investigations might go beyond the captain.
“We are investigating the possible responsibility of other people for such a dangerous maneuver,” he told SkyTG24 television. “Command systems did not function as they should.”
He said the ship had come within 150 metres (yards) of the coast, which he called “incredibly close.”
Agnese Stella, a 72-year-old housewife who has lived on Giglio for 50 years told Reuters: “It came much too close (to shore), it never comes this close normally.”
Magistrates said Schettino abandoned the vessel not long after midnight, well before all the passengers were taken off.
The vessel’s operator, Costa Crociere, a unit of Carnival Corp & Plc, the world’s largest cruise company, said the Costa Concordia had been sailing on its regular course when it struck a submerged rock.
In a television interview, Schettino said the rock was not marked on any maritime charts of the area.
After an massive rescue operation throughout the weekend, involving helicopters, ships and lifeboats, many passengers had already left the area and returned home and attention began to turn to the cleanup.
Local officials expressed concern the ship’s fuel, at full load as it had just begun the cruise, could spill into pristine waters off Giglio. So far there was no sign of pollution. Dutch maritime services company SMIT said it had been hired to pump fuel off the ship once the rescue was over.
The coast guard says the removal of the 2,380 tonnes of fuel cannot begin until the rescue is complete because the operation could cause the vessel to move or sink further into the water.
(Additional reporting by Silvia Ognibene, Edward Taylor and Joern Poltz; Writing by Philip Pullella and James Mackenzie; Editing by Barry Moody)