Rome: Divers searching the capsized Costa Concordia cruise ship found eight bodies on Wednesday on one of the passenger decks, including that of a missing 5-year-old Italian girl, authorities said.
Italy`s national civil protection agency, which is monitoring the operation off a Tuscan island, said four of the bodies had been recovered — those of a woman, a girl, a man and a person whose sex could not immediately be determined. Because of worsening weather, the divers were unable to immediately remove the other four bodies. That operation will resume on Thursday, if seas are calm.
The bodies were being transferred to a hospital on the mainland for identification, a process which could take days. Before Wednesday`s development, 15 people were listed as missing, but only one of them — Dayana Arlotti — was a child.
Dayana was on the Mediterranean cruise with her Italian father and his girlfriend. The girlfriend survived, while the father, Williams Arlotti, was among the missing.
The death toll, which includes those missing — presumed dead — and bodies already recovered, stands at 32.
Among the missing passengers are an elderly American couple from Minnesota, Barbara and Gerald Heil, and Dayana`s father. Others are from Germany and France. The one missing crew member is from India.
The father had a history of health problems, and was said by family to be travelling to celebrate a new lease on life — he had received a kidney and pancreas transplant. Some witnesses told media that they last saw him during the evacuation as he headed back to his cabin to retrieve lifesaving medication.
The Concordia, which was carrying some 4,200 passengers and crew, struck a reef off the Tuscan island of Giglio on January 13, took on water and started listing badly until it lay on its side.
Giglio is a tiny island of fishermen and tourist hotels, famed for pristine waters, coral reefs and a variety of marine life, including whales and dolphins.
Most of the victims were found on the capsized ship in the first two weeks after the accident. Three corpses were recovered from the water a few hours after the capsizing.
Officials coordinating search efforts said divers on Wednesday went into an area where survivors had told rescuers that some passengers had gathered to await evacuation. Many of the ship`s lifeboats couldn`t be launched after the ship leaned heavily on one side.
Helicopters lowered the divers onto the above-water section of the Concordia. They then scrambled down the side and swam through openings into the wreckage.
Diving search experts from France, Sweden and Britain have said they plan to meet with the Italian diving teams to lend assistance. Decomposing refuse and floating furniture inside the submerged ship have complicated their work.
In the first days after the accident, Dayana`s mother had been quoted as saying she was holding out hope that her little girl somehow survived. After word came on Wednesday that the child`s body had been seen, she was reported to be heading to the hospital where the bodies were brought.
"I can`t say if the mother was freed from a nightmare or not," her lawyer, Davide Veschi, told Sky TG24 TV.
The Concordia struck the reef when it veered too close to the island while passengers were having dinner in the ship`s main dining hall.
The captain, Francesco Schettino, is under house arrest at his home near Naples. He is being investigated for alleged manslaughter, causing a shipwreck and abandoning ship while passengers and crew were still onboard.
He denies abandoning the vessel, and contends the reef wasn`t marked on navigational charts, although sailors say its location is well known and on tourist maps. Another of the ship`s officers is also under investigation.
Italian news reports said on Wednesday that Tuscan prosecutors were in the process of notifying other persons that they were formally being investigated, including four ship`s officers and three officials from the Italian cruise company, Costa Crociere.
On Sunday, salvage experts finished extracting roughly two-thirds of the fuel from tanks on the more accessible part of the wreck, which is resting on a rocky ledge of seabed.
Authorities said that weather permitting, operations to remove fuel from other tanks might resume on Thursday.