Sunday 18 February 2018

Costa Concordia: Threat of Mafia treasure hunters as valuables lying beneath waters

The Costa Concordia lays on its starboard side after it ran aground off Giglio island. Photo: AP
The Costa Concordia lays on its starboard side after it ran aground off Giglio island. Photo: AP
Oil recovery workers pass in front of the Costa Concordia cruise ship. Photo: Reuters
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WHEN they fled the Costa Concordia, passengers left everything behind. Now a fortune is at the mercy of treasure hunters.

Lying silently beneath the pristine Italian waters are jewels, cash, champagne, antiques, 19th century Bohemian glassware, and thousands of art objects - including 300-year-old woodblock prints by a Japanese master.

It could just be a matter of time before anyone from common thieves to underwater teams run by the Mafia and specialising in recovering booty try to steal it.

"As long as there are bodies in there, it's considered off base to everybody because it's a grave," said Robert Marx, a veteran diver and the author of books on treasure hunting.

"But when all the bodies are out, there will be a mad dash for the valuables."

The Costa Concordia was essentially a floating luxury hotel. Many of the passengers embarked on the ill-fated cruise with their finest clothes and jewels so they could parade them in casinos and at gala dinners beneath towering chandeliered ceilings.

On top of that was massive wealth belonging to the ship itself: elegant shops stocked with jewelry, and more than 6,000 works of art decorating walls.

The wellness spa alone contained a collection of 300-year-old woodblock prints by Katsushika Hokusai, a Japanese artist most famous for his work of a giant wave framing Mount Fuji in the distance.

"It's now a paradise for divers," said Hans Reinhardt, a German lawyer who represents 19 German passengers seeking compensation for their loss. He said some of his clients traveled with diamond-studded jewels and other heirlooms that had been in their families for generations.

Among the sunken objects are furniture, the vast art collection, computers, wine, champagne, as well as whatever valuables were locked away in safes in private cabins, the Costa Crociere press office said.

The company still legally owns the ship and the passengers own their sunken objects.

The ship ran aground off the Tuscan island of Giglio on January 13 after the captain, Francesco Schettino, veered from his approved course.

Seventeen people are confirmed dead, with 15 still missing.

The ship's wreckage has been impounded by authorities.

Civil Protection, the agency that is running the rescue effort, says there is so much activity surrounding it now that authorities don't see a risk of looting yet. It also says it plans to remove the wreckage before looters can reach it.

After the ship ran aground, authorities passed a decree preventing anyone from coming within a nautical mile of the wreck.

"The ship is being guarded 24 hours a day. It's not possible to even get close," said Lt. Massimo Maccheroni, a Coast Guard official.

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