News24

Cruise ship death toll rises to 12

2012-01-21 19:12

Rome - Divers searching an Italian cruise shipwreck found another body on Saturday, bringing the death toll to 12, even as they hoped those missing may have miraculously survived in air pockets a week after the tragedy.

Coastguard divers discovered a woman's body towards the stern while searching previously inaccessible parts of the ship eight days after it hit rocks and keeled over on to its side off Italy's northwest coast.

As for the identity of the 12th body, a police official said the families of the 21 missing people would have to wait for "DNA tests now to identify the victim after a week in the water".

The discovery came hours after Italy's civil protection agency took command at the site on the tiny Tuscan island of Giglio, and promised to continue the search and rescue mission despite the risk of an oil spill.

The agency's head, Franco Gabrielli, said he had asked a technical committee for a fresh analysis of the "incredibly complex" situation at the doomed ship, holding 2 380 tonnes of fuel oil that could cause an environmental disaster.

Rescue mission, oil

"We have put no time limit on the search. We hope to combine the rescue mission with the removal of the oil but will wait for the findings before taking a decision," he said. The committee is to report by the end of Sunday.

"We are also drawing up maps which will trace the last known movements of the missing people, based on eye-witness testimonies, in the hope that searching specific zones might speed up the search," he said.

Gabrielli said he had also called for a medical opinion on how long it would be possible for someone to survive inside the toppled boat, where dangerous conditions were drastically slowing the search.

"You cannot just open each cabin door and say 'is anyone there?'. Some doors are jammed and if the divers opened them from below, they would be crushed by large pieces of loose furniture inside," he said.

The cabins under the waterline of the vast 17-deck Costa Concordia were being searched with micro-cameras, he said, adding that "each search takes 45 minutes".

The navy on Saturday blew new holes into the side of the luxury liner to search areas where panicked people may have gathered after the order to abandon ship, but authorities said the chance of finding someone alive was dwindling.

"We would need a miracle. Even if there was an air pocket because the ship is tilted, in these conditions, with the freezing water, the chances of finding someone alive are now remote," coast guard spokesperson Cosimo Nicastro told AFP.

"But we will continue searching until all hope is gone," he added as the loud booms of the navy's micro-explosives ricocheted across Giglio island.