A stricken Italian cruise liner has shifted on its rocky resting place as worsening weather disrupted an increasingly despairing hunt for survivors and authorities raised their estimate of the number missing to 29 people.
As the owners of the Costa Concordia blamed their captain for veering shorewards in a bravura "salute" to residents of a Tuscan island, the giant ship slid a little on Monday, threatening to plunge its whole gigantic carcass and 2,300 tonnes of fuel below the Mediterranean waters of the surrounding nature reserve.
If oil begins to leaking from the ship, fears of an environmental crisis may prompt Italy to declare a state of emergency.
The slippage forced rescuers to suspend for a few hours their efforts to find anyone still alive after three days in the capsized hull, resting on a jagged slope outside the picturesque harbour on the island of Giglio. Six bodies have been found. Most of the 4,200 passengers and crew survived, despite hours of chaos.
An Italian coastguard official told Reuters new agency late on Monday that the number of people missing had been revised up to 29 from 16, showing how much uncertainty still surrounded the disaster.
Another maritime official said later that 10 Germans were thought to be among the missing passengers.
The 114,500-tonne 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.
'Inexplicable' human error
At a press conference on Monday, the head of Costa Crociera, which owns the cruise ship, said the accident had been caused by "inexplicable" human error as the company moved to distance itself from Francisco Schettino, the captain of the ship.
"The company disavows such behaviour that caused the accident by deciding to deviate the ship from its ideal route," Pier Luigi Foschi said.
Costa Crociera said late on Sunday that Schettino appeared to have steered the vessel too close to the shore and had "made an error of judgement which has had serious consequences".
"The route followed by the ship was too close to the coast and it seems decisions in emergency management have not followed procedures in line with those followed by Costa Crociera which in some cases go beyond international standards," said the statement.
Authorities are holding Schettino for suspected manslaughter and a prosecutor confirmed on Sunday they were also investigating allegations the captain abandoned the stricken liner before all the passengers had escaped.
According to the Italian navigation code, a captain who abandons a ship in danger can face up to 12 years in prison.
A French couple who boarded the Concordia in Marseilles, Ophelie Gondelle and David Du Pays, said they saw the captain in a lifeboat, covered by a blanket, well before all the passengers were off the ship.
"The commander left before and was on the dock before everyone was off," Gondelle, 28, a French military officer, said.
Schettino is sticking to his claim that the rocks which sank the vessel were not marked on the nautical charts.
"I firmly believe that the rocks were not detected as the ship was not heading forward, but sideways," he said in an interview. "I don't know if it was detected or not, but on the nautical chart it was marked just as water, at some 100 to 150 metres from the rocks, and we were about 300 metres from the shore."
More bodies found
Al Jazeera's Paul Brennan, reporting from Giglio, off the coast of Tuscany, said: "Coastguards are treating [Schettino's] evidence with some scepticism. This coast is well known and well sailed. The charts are comprehensive."
The coast guard said on Sunday that the bodies of two elderly people had been found in the submerged restaurant of the Costa Concordia cruise ship. The Italian news agency ANSA reported the dead were an Italian and a Spaniard.
Two French tourists and Peruvian crew member were confirmed dead on Saturday. One of the victims was a man in his 70s who died of a heart attack caused by the shock to his system when he jumped into the icy waters, reports said.
Rescue crews managed to evacuate to safety one passenger during the day on Sunday and two other survivors during a night-time operation on Saturday.
Most of the 3,216 passengers and 1,013 crew members were evacuated to safety but dozens were injured in the accident, at least two of them seriously.
Source: Al Jazeera and agencies