Costa cruise captain blamed for disaster

2012-01-16 07:50
Giglio Island - Costa Crociere, the owner of the luxury liner that ran aground off the coast of Italy, killing at least five people, said on Sunday its captain had made "errors of judgment" as the search continued for 17 missing.

The admission came hours after rescue teams brought two passengers and an injured crew member off the half-submerged Costa Concordia to safety, but recovered the bodies of two more victims.

"It seems that the commander made errors of judgement that had serious consequences," said a company statement, adding that he had not followed company procedures in his management of the emergency.

Prosecutors arrested Captain Francesco Schettino and first officer Ciro Ambrosio late on Saturday.

The prosecutor leading the investigation, Francesco Verusio, told reporters that Schettino had left the stricken liner "well before" the last passengers were evacuated.

Mishandled emergency

And coast guard officials said the captain ignored repeated requests from them to return to his ship as the rescue operation continued.

"The route followed by the ship was not the right one," Verusio said, accusing Schettino of having "approached Giglio island in a very clumsy manner".

Prosecutors have also said the crew mishandled the emergency, delaying the start of the evacuation until an hour after the accident.

Costa Crociere said it was co-operating with prosecutors in the probe.

Earlier on Sunday emergency teams rescued two South Korean honeymooners and an Italian crewman from the vessel, as it lay off the west coast of Italy.

Fire brigade spokesperson Luca Cari said the rescued South Korean honeymooners had been evacuated by helicopter and were in "perfect condition".

"They were in their cabin, we still don't understand why," he added.

Bodies found

The rescued Italian, an officer responsible for passenger security, was found hours after emergency crews first heard his voice echoing in the massive ship.

"He shouted with joy when we got to him. He just thanked us," fire crew chief Cosimo Pulito said, adding that the man had sustained a broken leg.

But divers also found the bodies of two men trapped in a cabin in the rear of the submerged part of the 17-deck liner, said the coastguard.

One victim was identified as a Spanish man aged 68 and another was an 86-year-old Italian, said news agency Ansa, citing informed sources.

Rescuers said the search in the ship was highly dangerous because the decks were pitched at almost a 90° angle and there was a risk the ship could slip off the rocks it had struck and sink altogether.

But Pulito said they would keep searching until the whole ship had been covered.

The discovery of the bodies brought the death toll from the disaster to five, after the deaths of two French passengers and a Peruvian crew member were confirmed on Saturday.

Confusion

Medical sources said around 60 people had been injured, two of them seriously.

Enrico Rossi, governor of the Tuscany region, said six crew members and 11 passengers were still unaccounted for.

Italian media said four Italians were among the missing passengers, while the US embassy said two Americans out of the 120 on board were also missing. The others were two French couples and a passenger whose nationality was not given.

"The search operations will continue all night," the emergency services unit handling the search said in a statement, which noted that bad weather was expected from Thursday, which would complicate rescue operations.

The Costa Concordia, the luxury flagship of Costa Crociere's fleet, was carrying more than 4 200 people when it hit the rocks before running aground just off the Tuscan island of Giglio on the evening of January 13.

Several passengers have described the confusion on board as the lights went out and how they were at first told it was just an electrical fault - before the ship lurched sharply on its side and panic set in.

"In one corridor we smashed a window and took the life jackets," one passenger, Antonietta Simboli, told Italian newspapers.

"But as there weren't a lot of them, we were stealing them from each other," she added.

Investigations

US national Amanda Warrick described to CNN how the situation degenerated.

"Those were the most chaotic moments because everyone was pushing, shoving each other, trying to get on a lifeboat. It was chaos," she told the network.

French tourist Olivier Carrasco said he would sue the cruise operator.

"It took an hour and a half before a real alert was sent out," he told French newspaper Sud-Ouest, adding that the light on his life vest failed.

Rescuers said they plucked 100 people from the sea overnight into the early hours of Saturday.

Island residents have already said the ship was sailing far too close to Giglio and had hit an underwater rocky reef well known to inhabitants.

Defence Minister Giampaola Di Paola described it as "a serious human error that has had dramatic consequences".

Charges

Investigators on Sunday started analysing a "black box" recovered by rescuers, which logged the 291m long ship's movements and conversations between personnel.

But Italian media are already reporting that the two officers could face charges of multiple homicide and abandoning the ship before all the passengers were rescued.

Other crew however, said that they participated in evacuations.

"We saved between 500 and 600 people. I made a dozen trips with the lifeboat, it was cold and windy," said Colombian crewman Edgard Lopez Sanchez.

"We are the heroes - the Colombians, the Hondurans, the Chinese, the crew is made up of 20 nationalities," he said.

The people on board included some 60 nationalities, although nearly a third of the passengers were Italian, followed by Germans and French.

The disaster happened just hours after the ship had left the port of Civitavecchia near Rome at the start of a Mediterranean cruise - and before passengers had had time to take part in the ship's emergency drill.

Genoa-based Costa Crociere is Europe's biggest cruise operator, with a turnover of €2.9bn ($3.7bn) in 2010.
Read more on:    costa  |  italy  |  cruise liner disaster

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