17 Jan 2012

Cruise ship tragedy: five more bodies found

Rescuers find five more bodies in the wreckage of the Costa Concordia, bringing the known death toll of the cruise ship accident to 11. There are still 24 people missing.

Hopes are beginning to fade for the missing, four days after the giant cruise liner carrying 4,200 passengers and crew ran into rocks off the coast of Tuscany, Italy and capsized.

Five more bodies were found on Tuesday, bringing the total death toll to 11, after rescuers used controlled explosions to try to reach parts of the wrecked vessel which were previously inaccessible.

Before the five bodies were found, those missing were 14 German, five Italian, four French and two American passengers and four crew from Italy, Peru, India and Hungary.

Read more: What next for the stricken Costa Concordia?

The hull of the Costa Concordia remains wedged on a slope off the coast, near the island of Giglio.

The captain of the ship, Francesco Schettino, has been blamed for causing the disaster, risking thousands of lives and millions of pounds of ship, by sailing too close to the nearby island. He is in jail accused of multiple manslaughter, causing a shipwreck by sailing too close to shore and abandoning ship before all his passengers and crew managed to scramble off.

New transcripts (see grey box, below) also suggest that Mr Schettino also refused orders from the coastguard to get back on the ship to co-ordinate the rescue.

State of emergency

Italy is preparing to declare a state of emergency following the incident, and the Italian government has pledged funds to prevent an environmental disaster.

Concerns are growing that rough seas could result in tonnes of fuel leaking from the wreck into waters that are part of a protected sanctuary for dolphins, porpoises and whales. The Italian government says the salvage company dealing with the vessel has until Wednesday to come up with a plan to remove the fuel, and 10 days with a plan to remove the ship.

Clarence Mitchell, who is representing Costa Cruises, said: “(Costa Cruises CEO) Mr Foschi confirmed the captain had been approaching the island of Giglio to ‘make a salute’.

Read more: Cruise search continues as blame game begins

“The company says this (incident) was caused by an attempt by the captain to show the ship to the port. But there’s a criminal investigation going on and we’re not going to say anything that’s going to compromise that or the captain’s case.”

Mr Schettino’s lawyer issued a statement saying the skipper was “broken up, troubled and saddened by the loss of life”, but he believed he had saved many lives by carrying out a difficult emergency manoeuvre with anchors after the accident, which turned the ship closer to the shore. He denies being too close to the coast and says the rock he hit was not on the charts.

Prosecutors also say the captain refused to go back on board when requested by the coastguard.

‘Go back to that ship – that is an order’
Dramatic transcripts have emerged of conversations between the captain of the Costa Concordia, Francesco Schettino, and the coastguard – which appear to show that the captain abandoned the ship before all the passengers were evacuated and then allegedly refused to go back to oversee the evacuation.

Italian news agency ANSA obtained the transcripts, from the Friday when the ship capsized, which also reveal that the first person to call for help was a passenger.

When Schettino protests that he is on hand, if not on board, the coastguard officer cuts in: “Captain. This is an order. Now I am in command. You have declared the abandoning of a ship and are going to co-ordinate the rescue from the bridge. There are already dead bodies.”

“How many?” asks Schettino.

“You’re the one who should be telling me that,” the officer replies. “What do you want to do? Go home? Now go back up and tell me what can be done: how many people there are and what they need.”

“Alright,” says Schettino. “I’m going.”