More bodies found on Italian cruise ship

Last Updated: Sunday, January 15, 2012 - 23:42

Giglio: Divers found the bodies of two elderly men inside a capsized cruise liner on Sunday, bringing the known death toll from a spectacular accident off Italy`s coast to five, with another 70 people injured.

Divers and other rescuers were painstakingly checking thousands of cabins on the Italian liner Costa Concordia for 15 people still unaccounted for after the huge vessel foundered and keeled over with more 4,229 passengers and crew on board.

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, after being holed by a rock on Friday night.

The captain of the luxury 114,500-tonne ship, Francesco Schettino, was arrested on charges of manslaughter, causing a shipwreck and abandoning ship, Italian police said.

Searching the vast ship for survivors was like combing through a small town - but one tilted on its side, largely in darkness and partly submerged.

In the early afternoon, scuba divers looking for survivors instead found the bodies of two men at a gathering point in the submerged part of the ship, coastguard officials said.

The bodies of two French tourists and a Peruvian crew member were found on Saturday.

The discovery of the bodies on 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.

In the early hours of Sunday rescuers pulled out the two South Koreans from a cabin, after locating them from several decks above. They looked dazed but unharmed as they were brought ashore.

By Sunday afternoon, about a quarter of the part of the ship that is still above the waterline had been searched. "This is a floating city and it`s very difficult," said Luca Cari, spokesman for firefighters on Giglio.

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 on 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. A large gash was visible in its side.

Rescue workers including specialist diving teams faced a complex task as they worked their way through more than 2,000 cabins on the ship - a floating resort that boasted a huge spa, seven restaurants, bars, cinemas and discotheques.

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. "The command systems did not function as they should have."

He said the ship had come within 150 meters (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."

"Unmarked" Rock

Magistrates said Schettino, whose ship was carrying 4,229 passengers and crew, abandoned the vessel 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.

Costa Crociere President Gianni Ororato said the captain "performed a manoeuvre intended to protect both guests and crew" but it was "complicated by a sudden tilting of the ship."

"We`ll be able to say at the end of the investigation. It would be premature to speculate on this," said coastguard spokesman Filippo Marini.

After a night-time operation on Friday and Saturday involving helicopters, ships and lifeboats, many passengers had left the area with many taken to Rome airport for flights home.

The ship was involved in an accident on November 22, 2008 when it hit a port wall and was damaged while docking.

Local officials expressed concern the fuel on the ship, at full load as it had just begun the cruise, could spill into the pristine waters. However by early Sunday, there was no sign of any pollution damage.

Dinner Time Disaster

Passengers had just sat down to dinner, a few hours after leaving the port of Civitavecchia near Rome on a week-long cruise to Barcelona and Majorca, when a loud bang interrupted the piano player and the ship began to list.

"We heard a loud rumble, the glasses and plates fell from the tables, the ship tilted and the lights went off," said passenger Luciano Castro.

"What followed was scenes of panic, people screaming, running around the place. Close to us a five-month pregnant young woman was crying and panicking."

The ship was carrying mainly Italian passengers, but also British, Germans, French, Spanish, Americans and others. Many were elderly and some were in wheelchairs. It became more difficult to lower the lifeboats the more the ship listed.

"It was complete panic. People were behaving like animals. We had to wait too long in the lifeboats," said Patrizia Perilli, 47.

Passengers said they had been given little or no information in the immediate aftermath of the ship running aground.

"After approximately 20 minutes a voice told us there was a problem with the electricity that they were trying to fix," said Castro.

"The ship continued to tilt further, after 15 minutes they said again it was a problem with the electricity, but no one believed it," he said.

"Of course panic makes things worse and the crew members struggled in calming down the most active and worried passengers."

The ship was built in 2004-2005 at a cost of 450 million euros at the Fincantieri Sestri shipyard in Italy.

Bureau Report



First Published: Sunday, January 15, 2012 - 10:24

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