Cruise captain under scrutiny, another body found
January 16, 2012
ROME (AP) – The captain of a cruise liner that ran aground and capsized off the Tuscan coast faced accusations from authorities and passengers that he abandoned ship before everyone was safely evacuated as rescuers found another body on the overturned vessel.
The male passenger was found in a corridor of the part of the Costa Concordia still above water, fire department spokesman Luca Cari told state radio. The victim was wearing a life-vest. Six bodies have now been recovered, while 16 people are unaccounted-for after the luxury liner struck rocks or a reef off the tiny island of Giglio.
The number of unaccounted-for was raised after relatives of two Sicilian women who had been listed among those safely evacuated after Friday night’s grounding told authorities they not heard from them.
The search of the ship, including a risky inspection of the underwater half of the capsized ship, was continuing Monday, in rough seas.
On Sunday, divers searching the murky depths of the ship found the bodies of two elderly men. Three other bodies were found in the hours after the accident.
Still, there were glimmers of hope: The rescue of three survivors – a young South Korean couple on their honeymoon and a crew member brought to shore in a dramatic airlift some 36 hours after the grounding late Friday.
Meanwhile, attention focused on the captain, who was spotted by Coast Guard officials and passengers fleeing the scene even as the chaotic and terrifying evacuation was under way.
The ship’s Italian owner, a subsidiary of Carnival Cruise lines, issued a statement late Sunday saying there appeared to be “significant human error” on the part of the captain, Francesco Schettino, “which resulted in these grave consequences.”
Authorities were holding Schettino for suspected manslaughter and a prosecutor confirmed 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.
Schettino insisted he didn’t leave the liner early, telling Mediaset television that he had done everything he could to save lives. “We were the last ones to leave the ship,” he said.
Questions also swirled about why the ship had navigated so close to the dangerous reefs and rocks that jut off Giglio’s eastern coast, amid suspicions the captain may have ventured too close while carrying out a maneuver to entertain tourists on the island.
Residents of Giglio said they had never seen the Costa come so close to the dangerous “Le Scole” reef area.
“This was too close, too close,” said Italo Arienti, a 54-year-old sailor who has worked on the Maregiglio ferry between Giglio and the mainland for more than a decade. Pointing to a nautical map, he drew his finger along the path the ship usually takes and the jarring one close to shore that it followed Friday.
Costa captains have occasionally steered the ship near port and sounded the siren in a special salute, Arienti said. Such a nautical “fly-by” was staged last August, prompting the town’s mayor to send a note of thanks to the commander for the treat it provided tourists who flock to the island, local news portal GiglioNews.it reported.
But Arienti and other residents said even on those occasions, the cruise ship always stayed far offshore, well beyond the reach of the “Le Scole” reefs.
Coast Guard Cmdr. Filippo Marini said divers had recovered the so-called “black box,” with the recording of the navigational details, from a compartment now under water, though no details were released.
Survivors described a terrifying escape that was straight out of a scene from “Titanic.” Many complained the crew didn’t give them good directions on how to evacuate and once the emergency became clear, delayed lowering the lifeboats until the ship was listing too heavily for all to be released.
“We were left to ourselves,” pregnant French passenger Isabelle Mougin, who injured her ankle in the scramble, told the ANSA news agency.
Another French passenger, Jeanne Marie de Champs, said that faced with the chaotic scene at the lifeboats, she decided to take her chances swimming to shore.
“I was afraid I wouldn’t make the shore, but then I saw we were close enough, I felt calmer,” she told Sky News 24.