17 Jan 2012

Fears grow for cruise ship missing

10:04 pm on 17 January 2012

Emergency crews are continuing to search around the wreck of a stricken cruise ship in Italy, but fears are growing for the 29 people still missing.

Six people are known to have died after the Costa Concordia crashed into rocks near the island of Giglo off Italy's west coast on Friday night before capsizing.

The 114,500-tonne ship was carrying 4200 passengers and crew. Twenty-five passengers and four staff remain unaccounted for, the BBC reports.

The captain, Francesco Schettino, 52, is accused of manslaughter and abandoning the ship before all on board were evacuated.

On Monday, the Costa Concordia's owners, Costa Cruises, said the captain hit the rocks because he deliberately steered the ship towards the island. Prosecutors also claim that he was responsible for the disaster.

The captain is facing fresh allegations following the recovery of one of the black boxes.

Italy's ANSA news agency reports that one of the recorders carries a conversation between Captain Schettino and a port official, said to have taken place several hours after the ship keeled over.

The official orders the captain to coordinate the evacuation. "You must tell us how many children and women there are", he says.

The captain, it is reported, remains evasive. "What are you doing," asks the official. "Are you abandoning the rescue?"

Captain Schettino maintains publicly that he followed the correct procedures.

State of emergency

Italy says it will declare a state of emergency over the incident and provide funding to help avert any environmental disaster.

Environment minister Corrado Clini said on Monday that liquid was leaking from the ship, but it was unclear if it was fuel. However, the risk to the island was very high.

"The aim is to prevent the fuel leaking out of the ship. We are working to avoid this. It is urgent and time is running out."

The ship is resting on an undersea ledge in 15 to 20 metres of water but has shifted in worsening weather on Monday. Protective barriers are being put in place.

Costa Cruises earlier said 2300 tonnes of fuel are on the ship, but so far there was no sign of leakage.

Apology from company chief

Costa chief executive Pier Luigi Foschi said on Monday that cruise ships such as the Costa Concordia had no safety problem.

At a news conference in Genoa, he fought back tears as he apologised for the accident, saying it was due to human error.

Mr Foschi accused Captain Schettino of sailing too close to the island of Giglio in order to show the ship to residents.

''This route was put in correctly. The fact that it left from this course is due solely to a manoeuvre by the commander that was unapproved, unauthorised and unknown to Costa.

''He wanted to show the ship, to (go) nearby this island of Giglio, so he decided to change the course of the ship to go closer to the island."

Mr Foschi said Costa's ships have their routes programmed and alarms sound when they go off-course.

The senior national secretary of Nautilus International, the union for maritime professionals, says marine architects are sacrificing safety for economy and comfort.

Allan Graveson says serious questions also need to be raised about evacuation procedures after it was revealed that passengers on the Costa Concordia had not done an evacuation drill.