Navy in action as cruise liner captain tests negative

2012-01-23 14:44

Giglio Island – Italian navy divers blew open access points in the wreck of the cruise ship MS Costa Concordia as rescuers debated whether to call off their search for at least 19 people still missing.

Italian media meanwhile reported that the luxury liner’s captain, Francesco Schettino, who faces charges of multiple manslaughter, had tested negative for drugs, while his lawyer said there could be other suspects in the tragedy.

“The investigations are in full flow also to determine possible other responsibilities of third parties who could at least have had a role” in causing the shipwreck, Bruno Leporatti was quoted as saying.

Schettino has claimed that the risky route he took close to the Tuscan island of Giglio in a showboating manoeuvre was agreed beforehand with his superiors at Costa Crociere – a subsidiary of US-based giant Carnival Corporation.

He has also said that he kept the company’s crisis officer fully informed about the scale of the disaster within minutes of hitting rocks, while the order to abandon ship was only given more than an hour later.

The shipping line declined to comment when called.

Navy divers set off small quantities of explosives at depths of up to 18m to allow access to decks four and five of the half-submerged luxury 114 500-ton cruise ship, which crashed 10 days ago.

“A team of divers is searching inside the vessel now,” said Alessandro Busonero, a spokesperson for the navy, explaining that the series of small blasts had smashed through window panes of 3cm thick glass.

Busonero also said an oceanographic ship, the Galatea, had arrived on Giglio to help search for objects or bodies on the sea bead with the help of high-resolution imaging equipment and calculations of currents.

Thirteen people have been confirmed dead in the tragedy so far, including five bodies recovered that have not yet been identified.

Officials have said there may also have been a Hungarian woman and others aboard as stowaways.

Some experts believe the operation to pump out 2 380 tons of heavy fuel oil from the ship’s tanks cannot start until search operations are suspended because it could destabilise the vessel and cause it to sink entirely.

“Today will be a decisive day. We’re holding our breath to see whether it will be possible to start pumping out the oil while continuing the search for missing people,” the mayor of Giglio, Sergio Ortelli, said.

“Obviously everybody would rather carry on the search, but it’s hard to believe that by some miracle there is someone still alive now,” he said.

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