Italian Divers Resume Search of Wrecked Cruise Ship

Posted January 19th, 2012 at 5:00 am (UTC-5)
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Italian divers resumed their search Thursday for at least 21 people missing from a wrecked cruise ship off Italy’s northwestern coast.

Officials say divers began searching again after the operation was suspended Wednesday out of concern the Costa Concordia might move off its rocky resting place into deeper waters.

Anxious relatives are holding on to faint hopes rescue workers will find more survivors after the cruise ship ran aground off Italy’s Tuscan coast.

In Friday’s accident, the ship hit rocks that tore a 52 meter gash in the hull, causing it to flip on its side.

Official say at least 11 people died.

Divers say conditions have been difficult and dangerous inside the partially submerged 114,000 ton ship, and Italian officials say additional searches could be affected by changing weather conditions. The weather is also sparking concern about a possible environmental disaster.

Italian Environment Minister Corrado Clini said Wednesday if the 2,400 tonnes of fuel begins to leak it could cause terrible damage. He said efforts to start pumping out the fuel could start once the search for survivors ends, provided weather conditions are stable.

Meanwhile, Italian prosecutors say they want the captain of the Costa Concordia back in jail.

Francesco Schettino is under house arrest, facing charges for manslaughter and abandoning ship before all the passengers were rescued.

But prosecutor Francesco Verusio said Wednesday officials wanted to “avoid the situation where Schettino could escape from his responsibilities.”

Schettino’s lawyer defended the captain during a news conference Wednesday, saying his client “never left the scene.” Bruno Leporatti also said contrary to stories in the Italian media, Schettino was “deeply shaken” by the accident.

Relatives of the missing have been gathering in Porto Santo Stefano hoping to hear their loved ones have been found, but many are growing impatient.

Madeleine Soria Molina’s sister was a crew member on the Costa Concordia. She told reporters, “I’m here to find my sister. I should do everything to find her.” She also said time was running out.

A relative of another missing crew member said he is confident the ship’s captain will face justice, but that the charges are of little concern to him. Kevin Rebello says the main priority for the families is “to look for their family members and to find them and see that they take them home safely.”

An audio recording released Tuesday of an angry exchange between the Italian Coast Guard and the captain of the capsized ship reveals that the captain refused orders to get back on his stricken vessel.

Coast Guard Captain Gregory De Falco demanded that Captain Schettino use a ladder to climb back onto the damaged Costa Concordia and report how many people were still on board.

But Schettino responded that he was not going anywhere, complaining that it was too dark on the ship. He said he was coordinating the rescue from a lifeboat. A furious Captain De Falco bellowed that he was now in charge and he ordered Schettino back on the vessel — warning him that he was “going to pay” for his actions.

The owners say he steered too close to shore and made decisions during the emergency that did not follow company procedures, which they said are based on international standards.

Italian Prime Minister Mario Monti said, “any such disaster could and should be avoided.”

Officials say that when the ship hit the rocks, passengers were ordered to put on life jackets and to board life rafts. However, passengers say the ship tilted so sharply and quickly that many lifeboats could not be lowered into the water.

The $450 million Costa Concordia cruise ship was carrying more than 4,200 passengers and crew when it ran aground.

The accident has prompted a U.S. congressional committee to plan a hearing on training and safety practices of cruise ships.