Eleven people are known to have died and 21 people are still unaccounted for in the shipwreck on Italian coast [AFP]

The captain who ran his cruise ship aground and sank off the Italian coast, leading to the deaths of at least 11 passengers, told company officials only that he was having "problems" after hitting a reef, the company CEO has said.

CEO Pierluigi Foschi told Italian state television on Friday evening that the company spoke to the captain at 10:05pm, around 20 minutes after the Costa Concordia struck the reef on January 13, but could not offer proper assistance because the Captain Francesco Schettino's description "did not correspond to the truth".

Schettino did not say he had hit a reef and did not tell crew members "the gravity of the situation," Foschi said.

Video shot by passengers and shown on Italian television indicates crew members were telling passengers to go to their cabins as late as 10:25pm, and the abandon ship alarm sounded just before 11pm.

Company abandons captain

The $450 million ship was carrying more than 4,200 passengers and crew when it slammed into well-charted rocks off the island of Giglio. Eleven people have been confirmed dead and 21 are still missing.

Costa Crociere SpA, the company that owns the ship, offered support to the captain in the hours after the emergency but has now turned its back on the man who is under investigation for manslaughter, causing a shipwreck and abandoning his ship.

Schettino, who was jailed after he left the ship, is under house arrest near Naples.

Costa in recent days has suspended Schettino, announced it is no longer paying his legal fees and has signed on as a civil party in the prosecution, a move that positions it as an injured party and would allow it to seek damages in the case of a guilty verdict.

Choppy seas

Italian rescue workers resumed their search of parts of the cruise liner late on Friday after halting earlier when the ship shifted. Operations resumed at sundown, but only in areas above the water.

"We hope there could still be people alive inside ... If the search goes on, it means we still have hope," Cosimo Nicastro, a coast guard spokesman, told the AFP news agency as rescuers prepared to work through the night.

The search will focus on the third of the ship's 17 decks, where the luxury liner's lifeboats were. The liner will be monitored during the night and if is stable, divers would resume the underwater search at dawn, he said.

Choppy seas have moved the ship and ended searches twice before. If the Concordia does slip off the reef, it will plunge almost 100 metres to the bottom of the Mediterranean.

Operations were suspended on Wednesday after the ship, which is partially submerged and lying on its side, shifted while divers were inside.

A coastguard spokesman said on Thursday that divers had returned to the ship, using explosives to access areas of the vessel, but there were concerns that choppy seas and strong winds forecasted for later in the day could again bring the search effort to a halt. 

Dramatic new amateur footage has emerged showing the moments immediately following the ship's impact

"We have divers going down ... We will then use the micro-explosives to open more holes," Filippo Marini, the coastguard spokesman, said.

"They will enter inside the ship and search for more people."

The bodies of three more victims have been identified - two French citizens and one Spanish national - with the confirmed death toll now 11 among more than 4,000 passengers and crew aboard the ship at the time of the accident.

Divers were focusing on an evacuation route on the fourth level of the ship, now about 18 metres below the water's surface, where five bodies were found earlier this week, an Italian navy spokesman said.

Amid concerns regarding the weather, rescue personnel installed ladders to link the ship to the coastline on Thursday evening, a fire-brigade spokesman said.

Dramatic new footage emerged on Thursday, showing water streaming down a staircase of the luxury cruise liner as guests attempted to escape. Staff and passengers are seen running through the corridors of the ship in a state of panic.

Winding down

Al Jazeera's Paul Brennan, reporting from Giglio, said that the search operation was winding down.

"It's really coming to an end, the search operation. The head of the fire rescue service has this morning set a 12-24 hour deadline for the end of the search phase. We're now moving into a new phase, that would be the salvage phase," he said.

"The ship is a labyrinth. It's gigantic and it's lying on its side in the water. It's a miracle that so many survived," Modesto Dilda, head of a firefighters diving team from Vicenza, said.

Searches have been called off twice after movement was detected while divers were inside the Concordia [Reuters]

He said the ship was stable and crews would be working non-stop to find the missing.

"It's important to continue our search. Family members find it important to have the body of the loved one they've lost because it gives them closure. We understand this," he said.

The families of the missing are already on the island but, as hopes of finding survivors disappear, attention has increasingly shifted to efforts to avert a potential environmental disaster.

The ship's sudden movement on Wednesday postponed the start of an operation to extract the half-million gallons of diesel fuel on board the vessel.

Corrado Clini, Italy's environment minister, has warned of the ecological implications if the ship sinks or the fuel leaks, since the area is close to a marine sanctuary for whales, dolphins and porpoises.

Source: Al Jazeera and agencies