Search suspended for Italy cruise survivors

Rescue efforts halted, as captain faces allegations that he ignored coast guard orders to return to his stricken vessel.

    Search teams have been forced to suspend operations aboard the partially submerged Costa Concordia cruise ship, after the stricken vessel shifted slightly on the rocks on which it has been grounded off the Italian island of Giglio since Friday. 

    Italian authorities on Wednesday identified the 24 passengers and four crew still missing, a number that includes the six bodies found since Monday. None of the dead have been identified.

    The missing included 13 Germans, six Italians, four French, two Americans and one person each from Hungary, India
    and Peru.

    The ship had more than 4,200 passengers and crew on board when it ran aground, apparently following an unauthorised manoeuvre by the ship's captain.

    Scuba divers found more bodies on Tuesday after using explosives to access submerged areas of the ship which had been previously unreachable.

    Al Jazeera's Paul Brennan, reporting from Giglio, said that the ship's movements on Wednesday had been relatively minor.

    "We're talking small amounts, centimetres actually," our correspondent said. "The bow at front moves a little with the waves. But the rule is, if there is movement, then they have to get people off and monitor it."

    'Abandoning ship'

    As rescue efforts stalled, the focus in Italy moved to the actions of Francesco Schettino, the ship's captain, in the aftermath of the accident, following the release of an audio recording in which Schettino refused to return to the ship after a coast guard told him to do so.

    Prosecutors have accused Schettino, who is under house arrest, of manslaughter, causing a shipwreck and abandoning his ship before all passengers were evacuated on Friday night.

    The recording suggested that Schettino ignored repeated orders by coast guard captain Gregorio De Falco to return to the Costa Concordia after he had left the ship aboard a lifeboat.

    "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, adding that he was co-ordinating the rescue from the lifeboat.

    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.

    Environmental concerns

    With rescue operations now halted, the focus has turned to the environmental threat of the wreckage. Preparations for an operation to protect the marine environment in the local waters began on Wednesday.

    Amid the latest developments, officials have voiced concerns that the possible break-up of the stricken vessel could trigger an environmental disaster.

    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.

    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.

    SOURCE: Al Jazeera and agencies


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