Italy resumes cruise ship search

After brief suspension, divers continue above-water effort to find missing, a day after confirmed death toll reaches 12.

    Italian rescuers have gone back to work in their search for 20 people still missing from the capsized Costa Concordia cruise ship, after briefly halting their efforts when the ship began to slip on rocks off the Tuscan coast.

    Divers resumed searching the above-water section of the ship on Sunday, but choppy waters kept rescuers from exploring the submerged part.

    The rescue teams had abandoned their search earlier on Sunday after instruments monitoring movement of the ship indicated that the vessel, half-submerged and keeled over after hitting rocks, had shifted slightly off the island of Giglio.

    The underwater exploration had been halted for the same reason on Friday. But when it resumed a day later, divers found the body of a woman wearing a life vest in a narrow underwater corridor of the capsized ship, raising the death toll to 12.

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

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

    Identity unclear

    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.

    The Costa Concordia accident explained [Al Jazeera]

    Since then, the other victims have all been found inside the Costa 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.

    Al Jazeera's Paul Brennan, reporting from Giglio island, said there has been criticism 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 was to lead 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." 

    Brennan said Gabrielli had 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 under way," 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 Costa 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 about 20 minutes after the Costa 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.

    SOURCE: Al Jazeera and agencies


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