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12th body found as Italian cruise ship search resumes


Giglio, Italy¬†— Divers resumed their search for survivors from the Italian cruise ship Saturday, as concerns grow over the potential environmental threat posed by the wreck.

A 12th body was found within the ship Saturday afternoon, Italian authorities confirmed, with at least 20 people still missing since the Costa Concordia ran aground off the island of Giglio last week.

The body of a woman wearing a life jacket was discovered in an area of the ship that was under water, said Francesca Maffini, spokeswoman for Franco Gabrielli, now in charge of operations at the site.

A committee made up of all the parties involved in the rescue operation told a briefing for reporters and villagers on the island Saturday that search and rescue efforts will continue — but that the environmental risk is also becoming urgent.

Officials said they cannot predict how long it will take to clear the wreckage, since that depends on maritime conditions and technical difficulties, but that all legal, environmental and human factors will be taken into account.

“It’s time for Italy to show it can do something right and do it well,” said the head of the committee, Franco Gabrielli.

Gabrielli, who leads Italy’s civil protection agency, warned that the task ahead was complicated and daunting, not least because it takes about 45 minutes to search each cabin, using special cameras and divers.

The giant Costa Concordia had 1,500 cabins on board. In video from the ship that emerged Friday, a crew member in a life jacket can be heard urging passengers to go back to their cabins, saying the “electrical problem” has been fixed and that “everything is under control.”

Gabrielli said no fuel oil had yet leaked from the ship — only kitchen and engine oil — and that he did not see an immediate risk of the 2,400 tons on board escaping.

A plan to remove the fuel oil has now been approved, he said, and will begin once experts give the go-ahead.

Booms have been put in place around the ship to try to stop the spread not just of oil but of many other pollutants, from detergents to sewage chemicals. With 4,000 people aboard, the ship was the size of a small town, Gabrielli added.

Adm. Ilarione Dell’Anna, head of coastal authorities for the port city of Livorno, said fuel will be replaced with water as it is removed from the ship’s tanks, to keep the ship balanced.

Gabrielli said Costa, the company that owns the cruise ship, was being very cooperative and was proving responsible, despite past errors.

He is to meet the prosecutor who has filed charges against Capt. Francesco Schettino Monday, he said.

The underwater search for survivors resumed Friday night, hours after divers suspended operations due to shifting of the cruise ship.

“We searched all night in the part of the vessel above water,” coast guard Capt. Filippo Marini said Saturday. “Early this morning, we had two more explosions (by navy experts) to open more holes in (the) ship. This to accelerate search operations of our divers.”

Marini described weather conditions Saturday on Giglio island as “excellent.”

Authorities are considering the possibility of attempting to anchor the vessel to the rocks off Giglio island using chains. But “it’s very difficult. The Concordia weighs 110,000 tons, and it’s like a 300-meter-high skyscraper in an horizontal position,” said Massimo Maccheroni of the Italian coast guard’s general command.

The Italian government announced a state of emergency Friday and set out a plan to defend against potential oil pollution and proposals for the removal of the wreck.

Both the Costa Cruises and authorities have criticized Schettino, who is under house arrest and faces possible charges of manslaughter, shipwreck and abandoning ship.

The office of prosecutor Francesco Verusio said it would lodge an appeal Saturday at a court in Florence against the investigating judge’s decision to grant him house arrest.

Verusio has said he disagrees with the judge’s ruling and that the captain should be in jail given the flight risk, and the gravity of his crimes.

Schettino’s lawyer, Bruno Leporatti, spoke to Italian news channel Sky Tg24 on Friday, urging people to reserve judgment on the captain until they have all the facts.

The cruise ship ran aground off the Tuscan coast on January 13, and it appears increasingly unlikely that any survivors will still be found aboard the ship.

Relatives of some of the missing passengers from France and Germany are on the island, with diplomatic representatives.

Cristiano Pellegrini, a spokeswoman for Giglio’s mayor, said dozens of emails had been sent by people around the world, saying they wanted to visit because they had seen how much help the islanders had given the stranded passengers and rescuers.

On Friday, more relatives of the missing passengers arrived on the island and some went out by boat to the wreck site, where they dropped flowers as a memorial tribute.

Bouquets of red and yellow flowers swayed in the clear blue waters as the massive ship lay on its side nearby.

“It’s terrible,” Giglio Vice Mayor Marco Pellegrini said. “We spend all day with relatives of those that have someone still missing and of those that have been identified.”

Eight of the dead have so far been named — four French passengers, a Spanish passenger, and Italian, along with a Hungarian crew member and a Peruvian crew member.

Schettino’s leadership was questioned once again Thursday, when a cook from the ship told a Filipino television station that the captain ordered dinner for himself and a woman at about 10:30 p.m. — less than an hour after the collision.

However, a Moldovan woman, Domnica Cemortan, 25, who also works for the cruise line but said she was on the Concordia as a passenger, defended the captain in a TV interview.

“I’ve heard in Russian media that the captain left the ship first, or among the first. But this is not true,” she said.

“I’m a witness — I don’t know if I’m invited to testify in the court or not, but as a witness I can say that I left the deck at 11:50 p.m. following an order from the captain who told me to go to the third deck to get into a lifeboat that could take more people.”

Cemortan said she had gone to the deck to help translate the captain’s orders after hearing a coded announcement that raised the alarm for crew members.

In Schettino’s hometown of Meta di Sorrento, residents supported the cruise ship captain.

“Captain, don’t give up,” reads a spray-painted sheet hanging outside the home where Schettino is under house arrest.

“It looks like the only one responsible is the captain. That’s what everyone on the outside (thinks),” Mayor Paolo Trapani said. “But in this village, people know he cannot be responsible for everything. It’s not like journalists want to portray it.”

Prosecutors have accused the captain of piloting the ship too fast to allow him to react to dangers, causing the shipwreck, according to legal papers.

Judge Valeria Montesarchio’s initial ruling found Schettino changed the ship’s course, steering too close to shore and causing the ship to hit a rock.

Earlier this week, Costa Cruises chairman Pier Luigi Foschi placed the blame for the wreck squarely on the captain, saying it was his choice to deviate from frequently traveled routes.

There were roughly 4,200 people on the Costa Concordia when it ran aground — about 3,200 passengers and 1,000 crew members. The vast majority fled the ship safely.