Cruise Disaster: Five more bodies found inside wrecked ship Costa Concordia
FIVE further bodies were found in the wreck of the Costa Concordia cruise ship on Tuesday as it emerged coast guard officials ordered the captain to jump immediately back on the vessel when they discovered that he was in a lifeboat rather than commanding the evacuation of more than 4,000 passengers and crew.
One woman and five men were all found at the stern of the boat, below the waterline.
"They were all wearing life jackets and we believe they are all aged between 50 and 60 years old," said Filippo Marini, Coast Guard spokesman.
It emerged on Tuesday that Italian port officials were aghast when Capt Francesco Schettino, 52, told them that he was trying to coordinate the operation from the safety of a life boat.
“What do you want to do, go home?” one official asked him, according to transcripts of the increasingly frantic exchanges between port authorities and the captain, who allegedly refused a direct order to return to the ship and take charge.
The transcripts reveal the mounting anger and frustration of port and Coast Guard officials as they began to realise the full extent of the disaster, despite the commander’s repeated insistence that the situation on board was “all OK”.
When officials told the captain that there were reports of bodies in the water, the commander allegedly asked: “How many?”.
A furious official in Porto Santo Stefano, on the Tuscan mainland, replied: “That’s for you to tell me!”
At 12.42am on Saturday, the control room in Porto Santo Stefano asked the captain how many people were left on the ship. The captain said there were about 100. In reality, the evacuation was still ongoing.
In another tense exchange at 1.46am a Coast Guard official told Capt Schettino: “Go to the bow, climb up the emergency ladder and co-ordinate the evacuation.” “You must tell us how many people, children, women and passengers there are and the exact number of each category. Go back on board. What are you doing, abandoning the rescue?”
Finally the commander said: “OK, I’m going.” But officials believe he did not return to the ship. A short time later he was on dry land, having left in a life boat.
As the situation became increasingly chaotic, an official said: “Captain, this is an order, I am the one in charge now. You have declared 'abandon ship’.” Francesco Verusio, the prosecutor in Grosseto who is leading the investigation, called the captain’s behaviour “inexcusable”.
The captain was due to be questioned by an investigating magistrate, Valeria Montesarchio, in Grosseto on Tuesday.
Crew members appeared to have become so frustrated with Mr Schettino’s inaction and delay as his ship ran aground on the rocky coast of Giglio island that they started hurrying terrified passengers towards the safety boats.
The captain only gave the order for the ship to be evacuated at around 10.50pm – 70 minutes after the vessel smashed into the rock.
But transcripts of communications between the ship and the Coast Guard in Livorno, on the mainland, suggest that junior officers and crew members had already pre-empted the order, acutely aware of the danger that the vessel was in as it began to list onto its side.
Just 10 minutes after the abandon ship order was given, a Coast Guard vessel saw lifeboats full of passengers heading towards the island.
Ten minutes would not have been enough time to fill and lower the boats, suggesting that officers on board the ship had started organising evacuation before the captain gave his order.
As Italian Navy divers continued the search for survivors:
- Over 70 passengers have joined a class action against the owner, consumer rights association Codacons said.
- Salvage crews were racing against time to prevent the ship, perched on the edge of an undersea ledge, from slipping to 300ft.
- Mr Schettino had previously said that he liked to “diverge from standard procedures” but would not want to be “the captain of the Titanic”.
Mr Schettino, who is being held in custody in Grosseto on the mainland, faces up to 15 years in prison.
On Tuesday, the Italian navy was blasting holes in the hull of the stricken Costa Concordia cruise ship to improve access for divers and caving specialists who are resuming the search for bodies and survivors.
Three loud blasts rang out around the tiny island of Giglio, where the 114,000 tonne luxury liner is resting on its side in about 45ft of water, just outside the island's tiny harbour.
Navy specialists in inflatable boats set the charges against the hull, ripping open gaps through which divers will be able to enter the bowels of the vessel.
Authorities on Monday night almost doubled the estimate of the number of passengers and crew still missing, from 16 to 29, after German authorities said that checks had shown 10 of their citizens were still missing.
Hope that anyone could have survived inside the ship since it ran aground on Friday night is fading.
The areas of the vessel that lie above water have been searched, as well as part of the unsubmerged area - a labyrinth of corridors, cabins, restaurants, gyms and entertainment areas which are now swirling with debris such as luggage and bits of carpeting.
The 1,000ft long ship, one of the biggest passenger vessels ever to be wrecked, foundered after striking a rock off the coast of Giglio just as dinner was being served on Friday night.
The Italian government says it fears an ecological disaster if the ship's half million gallons of diesel and oil start to leak into pristine coastal waters, part of a huge marine national park around the Tuscan archipelago of islands.
The captain was accused of “inexcusable” recklessness on Monday night after it emerged that he steered too close to shore to come within sight of his head waiter’s family home on the island of Giglio.
Half an hour before disaster struck, the waiter’s sister posted an entry on her Facebook page saying she had been told the ship was “going to pass really close”, and sending “a big hello to my brother”.
Pier Luigi Foschi said the course of the 1,000-ft long ship was pre-programmed. “The fact that it deviated from this course is due solely to a manoeuvre by the commander that was unapproved, unauthorised and unknown to Costa,” he said.
Antonello Tievoli, 46, the head waiter of the Costa Concordia, is “tormented by a sense of guilt” over the tragedy, his family said, even though he did not ask the captain to perform the sail-by.
His father, Giuseppe Tievoli, 82, said: “Antonello called me to say the ship would be passing by the island at around 9:30 and they would come and give us a whistle to say hello. It was something they often did.
“The ship obviously came too close. I don’t know if Antonello asked the captain to come near, but the responsibility is always and only the captain’s.”
At 9.08pm, half an hour before the ship was ripped open by submerged rocks 150 yards from the shore, the waiter’s sister Patrizia, a teacher who also lives on Giglio, wrote on her Facebook page: “In just a little while the Concordia is going to pass really close. A big hello to my brother who will finally disembark at Savona to enjoy a bit of rest.”
Hours later, after the ship capsized, she wrote: “A tragedy, a deadful tragedy. I can’t believe it’s true. I just hope I will wake up and realise that it was a nightmare. The longest night of my life.”
She later posted a black and white photograph of the Titanic, dated 1912, next to one of the Concordia on its side, dated 2012.
She also passed judgement on the captain’s claim that the rocks were not marked on his nautical charts. “Not very convincing at all!” she wrote.
Mr Schettino, 52, had reportedly performed the sail-by several times in the past, as a salute to his former boss Mario Palombo, a retired Costa captain who has a summer home on the island.
From his house in Grosseto, Tuscany, where he spends the winter months, Mr Palombo said: “I cannot understand what could have happened, what passed through my colleague’s head. The captain sets the course – on board the ship, he’s king. But I don’t want to be dragged into this argument.”
Costa confirmed that its captains had been given permission to sail within 500 yards of the island to “bow” to its inhabitants in the past, but said the captain was solely to blame for what happened on Friday night.
Mr Foschi said his company’s ship were fitted with alarms that sound when they deviate from the programmed route.
He apologised to the families of the dead, but said that “this route was put in correctly,” and “human error” was to blame.
Francesco Verusio, the chief prosecutor in the case, said: “We are struck by the unscrupulousness of the reckless manoeuvre that the commander of the Costa Concordia made near the island of Giglio. It was inexcusable.”
Mr Schettino only told the coastguard his ship was taking on water 45 minutes after it hit the rocks, and allegedly abandoned the vessel while hundreds of people were still on board, later ignoring an order from the coastguard to go back to the capsized vessel to supervise the evacuation.
His lawyer, Bruno Leporatti, said the captain was “overcome and wants to express his greatest condolences to the victims”.