Divers blow open part of Concordia
Giglio Island - Italian navy divers blew open an access point in the wreck of the Costa Concordia on Monday as a key decision loomed on whether rescuers will call off their search while the ship's tanks are emptied of fuel.
Divers set off small quantities of explosives to open a breach between decks four and five to access the luxury liner's restaurant area where they believe many of the 19 people still missing could have been when disaster struck.
Thirteen people have been confirmed dead in the tragedy so far, including five bodies recovered that have not yet been identified.
Officials have said a Hungarian woman and others may have been stowaways among the missing.
The head of Italy's civil protection agency, Franco Gabrielli, who is overseeing operations on the scene, was due to meet with scientific experts later Monday to decide whether to halt the search.
Little hope for survivors
Some experts believe that the operation to pump out 2 380 tonnes of heavy fuel oil from the cruise ship's tanks cannot start until search operations are suspended because it could destabilise the 114 500-tonne vessel.
Officials said that there was little hope of finding survivors 10 days after the crash on the Tuscan island of Giglio.
An oceanographic ship with high-resolution imaging equipment was set to join the search to scan for bodies under the vessel.
"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, told AFP.
"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.
Warning of ecological disaster
Dutch firm Smit, one of the world's largest marine salvage companies, has been ready to pump the fuel out of the wreck for a week, but a representative on the island said it was "unlikely" they would begin on Monday.
Environmentalists have warned of a potential ecological disaster if there is a leak of fuel from the ship - which was at the beginning of a seven-day cruise when it crashed into a group of rocks close to the shoreline.
The island, part of Europe's biggest marine sanctuary, is a popular holiday spot with pristine sandy beaches and spectacular rocky shores.
The Costa Concordia had 4 229 people on board from more than 60 countries.
Meanwhile, confusing reports emerged over captain Francesco Schettino's actions in the hours after the crash as the owner of a hotel on the island said he saw him hand over what looked like a personal computer to an unknown blonde.
Schettino, who has been accused of multiple manslaughter and abandoning ship, is being held under house arrest as Italian prosecutors collect key evidence from the liner crash, including the ship's black box and a hard disk.
"It was about 11:30 on Saturday, the morning after the disaster. Schettino had a red bag, and inside there was another white bag or case. It contained something rigid," said Paolo Fanciulli, 45, who owns the Hotel Bahamas.
As journalists pounced on the captain, Fanciulli said a blonde woman - who he thought was a lawyer - swept into the lobby, took the bag and ushered him away.
"She understood the situation immediately. She took him by the arm and led him away. It all happened in about four or five seconds," he said.
Costa Cruises confirmed that the woman was one of their lawyers but denied she had taken away any of the captain's personal effects.