Sunday 25 February 2018

More people may have been on ship

Italian navy scuba divers sail past the cruise ship Costa Concordia (AP)
Italian navy scuba divers sail past the cruise ship Costa Concordia (AP)
Relatives of the missing passengers of the grounded cruise ship Costa Concordia throw flowers in the sea during a short ceremony (AP)

Press Association

Unregistered passengers might have been aboard the stricken cruise liner that capsized off a Tuscan island, a top rescue official has said, raising the possibility that the number of missing might be higher than the 20 previously announced.

Rescuers, meanwhile, resumed searching the above-water section of the Costa Concordia but choppy seas kept divers from exploring the submerged part, where officials have said there could be bodies.

"There could have been X persons who we don't know about who were inside, who were clandestine" passengers aboard the ship, Franco Gabrielli, the national civil protection official in charge of the rescue effort, told reporters at a briefing on the island of Giglio, where the ship, with 4,200 people aboard rammed a reef and sliced open its hull on January 13 before turning over on its side.

Mr Gabrielli said that relatives of a Hungarian woman have told Italian authorities that she had telephoned them from aboard the ship and that they have not heard from her since the accident. He said it was possible that a woman's body pulled from the wreckage by divers on Saturday might be that of the unregistered passenger.

But the identity of that body and of three male bodies, all badly decomposed after days in the water, have yet to be established. Mr Gabrielli said they have identified the other 12 bodies: four French, an Italian, a Hungarian, a German and a Spanish national. Until Sunday, authorities had said that 20 people were still missing.

The search had been halted for several hours earlier, after instrument readings indicated that the Concordia has shifted a bit on its precarious perch on a seabed just outside Giglio's port. A few metres away, the sea bottom drops off suddenly, by some 20-30 metres, and if the Concordia should abruptly roll off its ledge, rescuers could be trapped inside.

When instrument data indicated the vessel had stabilised again, rescuers went back in, but explored the above-water section only. Choppy seas kept divers from exploring the submerged part of the ship, including the restaurant and evacuation staging areas where survivors have indicated that people who did not make it into lifeboats during the chaotic evacuation could have remained.

The Italian captain, Francesco Schettino, is under house arrest as prosecutors investigate him for suspected manslaughter, causing a shipwreck and abandoning the ship while many were still aboard.

Operator Costa Crociere, a subsidiary of US-based Carnival Cruise Lines, has said that Capt Schettino had deviated without permission from the vessel's route in an apparent manoeuvre to sail close to the island and impress passengers.

Capt Schettino, despite audiotapes of his defying Coast Guard orders to scramble back aboard, has denied he abandoned ship while hundreds of passengers were desperately trying to get off the capsizing vessel. He has said he co-ordinated the rescue from aboard a lifeboat and then from the shore.

Press Association

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