Ship captain quizzed as search for 29 missing continues

2012-01-17 14:45

Prosecutors are questioning the captain of the capsized Costa Concordia cruise liner, as rescue operations for the 29 people still listed as missing continued, with divers using controlled explosions to remove obstacles in their path.

Captain Francesco Schettino faces charges of multiple manslaughter and of abandoning the ship. Judges must now decide whether to confirm his arrest. He faces up to 15 years in prison if convicted.

Italian media have quoted Grosseto prosecutor Francesco Verusio as saying that the order to evacuate the ship was given at 10.58 pm (21H58 GMT) on Friday, more than an hour after the ship hit a rock near the Italian island of Giglio.

The owners of the ship have blamed its captain for changing the course of the liner, which had 4 200 people on board, and steering it dangerously close to Giglio, possibly to salute a colleague and tourists gathered by the water.

The Ansa news agency reported that Schettino was answering questions by prosecutors in the city of Grosseto.

Meanwhile, divers used a fifth explosion to remove obstacles and debris as they made their way into the partially sunken ship to search for the missing.

“We want to take advantage of the good weather to try to make as much progress as possible,” said coast guard spokesperson Filippo Marini.

According to Italian officials, a total of 29 people are still unaccounted for. They are: six Italians, 14 Germans, four French, two US nationals, and one each from Hungary, India and Peru.

Six people have been confirmed dead since the vessel ran aground and partially capsised in the Mediterranean Sea, about 150 metres off Giglio island near the coast of Tuscany.

According to meteorologists, the weather is expected to remain good until Thursday, when rough waters and strong winds are expected.

Rescue operations had to be temporarily interrupted yesterday, when the ship shifted slightly from its resting place as a result of rough waters.

Environment group WWF has called for new rules aimed at avoiding a repeat of the tragedy, which has taken place in a sanctuary for whales and dolphins.

Environment Minister Corrado Clini said no fuel had been seen flowing into the sea from the wreck, but added that it represented a danger to the environment and the fuel must be quickly pumped off.

About 2 300 tons of fuel were on board the ship, which is lying on its side in shallow water layer and Nick Rigillo.

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