Cruise ship rescue efforts suspended

Stricken vessel slips, prompting halt to operations, as death toll reaches six and company blames captain for accident.

    Rescue operations on a capsized cruise ship off the coast of an Italian island have been suspended indefinitely after the stricken vessel slipped on the rocks on which it ran aground, as the role of the captain in the accident came under scrutiny.

    The Costa Concordia slipped nine centimetres vertically and 1.5 centimetres horizontally from its resting place, prompting an immediate evacuation, according to a spokesman for firefighters involved in the rescue effort.

    "Operations are suspended. We will have to monitor the stability of the ship and we don't know when we will resume operations," he said.

    Rescue officials raised the death toll to six people on Monday following the discovery of a man's body aboard the Costa Concordia. At least 16 people are still missing among more than 4,000 who were aboard at the time of the accident, according to officials.

    The boat remained partially submerged and listing sharply close to the coast of Del Giglio. A large gash could be seen in the hull but salvage experts said its fuel tanks did not appear to have been damaged, and there was no sign of leakage so far, lessening the danger of an oil spill in the pristine waters.

    In 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 told a press conference.

    'Error of judgment'

    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 Costa Concordia accident explained [Al Jazeera]

    "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," said Gondelle, 28, a French military officer.

    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 Del 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.

    "But blame can be allocated later. The priority now is to save anyone who might still be alive."

    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.

    The 290-metre-long Costa Concordia began taking in water through a 50-metre hole in its hull and tilting on Saturday night after hitting underwater rocks, according to Italian coastguards.

    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.

    Police divers, rescue crews and helicopters continued to circle the wreckage in an apparent search for other survivors.

    Italian authorities said they were trying to find room to accommodate the rescued passengers, including pregnant women and children.

    SOURCE: Al Jazeera and agencies


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