Divers suspend cruise ship rescue effort

Decision prompted by safety concerns after the partially submerged Costa Concordia moved slightly.

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

    Italian rescue workers have suspended their search of the capsized Italian cruise liner Costa Concordia after the ship moved again, officials said.

    Luca Cari, the firefighters' spokesman, said the various units of rescue squads would hold a meeting on Friday to evaluate the situation and discuss the next step. He said he could not say by how much the ship had moved.

    The seas around the island of Giglio, where the ship capsized a week ago, were choppy and the weather was predicted to worsen throughout the course of the day.

    Searches have been called off twice before after movement was detected. If the Concordia does slip, it will plunge almost 100 metres to the bottom of the Mediterranean.

    Eleven people died and 21 are still missing after the Costa Concordia hit a submerged reef off the island of Giglio on Friday night.

    Choppy seas

    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 several of the missing are already on the island and more are expected to arrive on Thursday 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.

    The Dutch salvage company carrying out the operation, which is expected to last for days, said it was ready to begin pumping out the fuel on Thursday, if the weather permitted.

    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.

    The company that owns the ship, meanwhile, has further attempted to distance itself from the disaster, saying that it will be a plaintiff in the case against Francesco Schettino, the ship's captain.

    SOURCE: Al Jazeera and agencies


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