The body of a woman wearing a life vest was recovered by Italian divers from a narrow underwater corridor of the capsized cruise ship Costa Concordia, raising the death toll to 12 in the week-old accident.

Coast Guard Commander Cosimo Nicastro told reporters the victim was found on Saturday during a particularly risky inspection of an evacuation staging point at the ship's rear.

Nicastro said. said: "The corridor was very narrow, and the divers' lines risked snagging [on objects in the passageway]." 

To permit the coast guard divers to get into the area, Italian navy divers had preceded them, setting off charges to blast holes for easier entrance and exit, he said.

The woman's nationality and identity were not immediately known.

Before the corpse was found, 21 people were listed as missing. One of the women on the list is a Peruvian crew member, the others are passengers.

Three bodies were found in the waters near the ship in the first hours after the accident.

Since then, the rest of the victims have all been found inside the Concordia, apparently unable to get off the ship during a chaotic evacuation via lifeboats and later by helicopters. Some survivors jumped off and swam to safety.

New leadership

Al Jazeera's Paul Brennan, reporting from Giglio Island, said there has been criticisms over the pace of the rescue operations.

Brennan said authorities were hoping the backlash would be dimmed following the arrival on Saturday of Franco Gabrielli, the head of Italy's civil protection agency, who will be leading the operation.

"First, he had to answer the question that was on everyone's lips: 'What took you so long?', Brennan said.

"He brushed that away, saying it was a government matter. 

"The government had to declare a state of emergency before he could come and that only happened yesterday."

Brennan said Gabrielli has very rapidly set up two committees.

"He's trying to determine if the search operation can continue parallel to a salvage operation that is set to get underway," Brennan said.

In his first remarks, Gabrielli said "we must not forget that on that ship there are oils, solvents, detergents, everything that a city of 4,000 people needs".

Gabrielli was referring to the roughly 3,200 passengers and 1,000 crew who were aboard the cruise liner when it ran into the reef, and then, with sea water rushing into a 70-metre gash in its hull, listed and finally fell onto its side.

Captain detained

The Concordia ran aground on January 14, while passengers dined, about two hours after the ship had set sail from the port of Civitavecchia on the Tyrrhenian Sea.

Francesco Schettino, the Italian captain of the ship, is under house arrest for investigation of alleged manslaughter, causing a shipwreck and abandoning the ship before all passengers and crew were evacuated.

Schettino insists he helped co-ordinate the evacuation from Giglio's docks after leaving the ship when the Concordia lurched to one side.

Pierluigi Foschi, director of the company that owns the $450m ship, told Italian state television on Friday that the company spoke to the captain around 20 minutes after the Concordia struck the reef.

He said Schettino's description of events at that time "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.

Source: Al Jazeera and agencies