Death toll rises in Italy cruise shipwreck
Al Jazeera, Doha, Qatar
Jan. 17–Italian officials say five more bodies have been found aboard a cruise ship that capsized off the coast of an Italian island, raising the official death toll to 11.
Rescue workers found the bodies on Tuesday in a submerged part of the Italian cruise liner which ran aground after hitting rocks near the island of Giglio on Friday.
“Scuba divers found five more bodies in the stern of the ship. They entered through holes made earlier in the day” with explosives, Cristiano Pellegrini, a Giglio official told the AFP news agency.
“The bodies are being evacuated for the ship now,” he said. “We don’t know if the are members of the crew or passengers,” he added.
Before the latest discovery, authorities had said 29 people remained missing among the more than 4,200 people who were on board when the liner went down.
As the rescue efforts continued, the Italian coast guard released an audio recording apparently revealing how the captain of the stricken Costa Concordia abandoned ship and refused to go back.
Prosecutors have accused Captain Francesco Schettino, who is in an Italian jail, of manslaughter, causing a shipwreck and abandoning his ship before all passengers were evacuated on Friday night.
Schettino has said he stayed aboard until the ship was evacuated.
However, a recording of his conversation with Italian Coast Guard Captain Gregorio De Falco indicates he fled before all passengers were off and then resisted De Falco’s repeated orders to return.
“You go on board and then you will tell me how many people there are. Is that clear?” De Falco said in the audio tape.
Schettino resisted, saying the ship was tipping and that it was dark. At the time, he was in a lifeboat and said he was co-ordinating the rescue from there.
De Falco shouted back: “And so what? You want go home, Schettino? It is dark and you want to go home? Get on that prow of the boat using the pilot ladder and tell me what can be done, how many people there are and what their
needs are. Now!”
“You go aboard. It is an order. Don’t make any more excuses. You have declared the abandoning of the ship, now I am in charge,” De Falco shouted.
Schettino was finally heard agreeing to reboard. It is unclear whether he did.
Amid the latest developments, officials have voiced concerns that the possible break-up of the stricken vessel could trigger an environmental disaster.
Sergio Ortelli, Giglio’s mayor, said on Tuesday that the Costa Concordia was an “ecological timebomb” that could start leaking thousands of tonnes of diesel fuel into the surrounding sea.
A spokesman for Royal Boskalis Westminster, the Dutch company handling the operation to remove the fuel from the vessel, said the process would take at least three weeks.
When pumping out diesel oil, Peter Berdowski told Dutch television, “every hour counts because if something happens and that spills and there is damage, then you have a very big ecological catastrophe”.
The ship, one of the biggest passenger vessels ever to be wrecked, foundered after striking a rock just as dinner was being served on Friday night.
It quickly rolled on its side, revealing a long gouge below the waterline.
Most of the passengers and crew survived, despite hours of chaos as some were rescued from the ship and others boarded lifeboats or swam to shore.
Al Jazeera and agencies