Blame game continues as Concordia’s captain tells prosecutors that Costa Cruises “insisted” he sail the ship close to shore
The body of a woman recovered on Sunday became the 13th confirmed death in the Costa Concordia casualty, as authorities disclosed that unregistered passengers may have been on board, adding to uncertainty over the number still missing.
Franco Gabrielli, the head of Italy’s Civil Protection authority, which is coordinating the rescue operations, said a number of unregistered passengers may have been on board when the vessel capsized near the island of Giglio in Tuscany on January 13.
“In theory, there could be an unknown number of people who were on the ship and have not been reported missing because they were not registered,” Mr Gabrielli said.
Rescuers are searching the above-water section of the vessels, but choppy seas kept divers from exploring the submerged part, where officials believe there may be as many as 20 more bodies.
Questions still remain about the ship’s stability on the sea ledge where it was grounded. The ship has shifted several times, the most recent being late Thursday when the search for bodies was temporarily suspended.
Salvors have been preparing to pump the 2,200 tonnes of fuel oil still in the Concordia’s tanks, but local authorities are waiting until the search for bodies is complete.
The blame game over the Costa Concordia casualty escalated as Francesco Schettino, the master of the vessel, told Italian prosecutors that he had been instructed to perform the manoeuvre that led to the casualty by Costa Cruises, the ship’s operator. Capt Schettino is charged with multiple manslaughter and with abandoning ship before the evacuation of 4,200 passengers and crew was complete.
As the days have passed, there have been growing questions about the ultimate responsibility for the accident, which Costa Cruises has blamed on “unfortunate human error” and placed firmly on the shoulders of the captain. It has suspended Capt Schettino and will not be paying his legal fees. Costa is a unit of Carnival, the world’s largest cruise line operator.
Capt Schettino is accused by prosecutors of steering the 114,500-tonne cruiseship to within 150 m of the coastline.
Lloyd’s List disclosed last week that Costa Concordia had once before sailed very near Giglio’s shore, on August 14, when it came within 230 m of the island. Costa Cruises said that it had authorised that approach but also claimed that the vessel was never closer than 500 m of the coast at any point in the voyage.
Costa Cruises chief executive Pier Luigi Foschi has said that ships sometimes engage in “tourist navigation”, in which they approach the coast but that this is only done under safe conditions and he was not aware of any riskier approaches so close to the shore.
Capt Schettino told magistrates that Costa Cruises had insisted on the manoeuvre to please passengers and attract publicity, according to transcripts leaked to Italian newspapers.
“It was planned, we were supposed to have done it a week earlier but it was not possible because of bad weather,” Capt Schettino said, told the Corriere della Sera daily. “They insisted; they said: ‘We do tourist navigation, we have to be seen, get publicity and greet the island’.”
He said he had performed similar manoeuvres regularly over the past four months on Costa Concordia and on other ships in the Costa fleet along the Italian coastline, which is dotted with small islands that are popular with tourists.
Costa Cruises declined to respond to Capt Schettino’s comments. “As an investigation by magistrates is currently underway, we cannot give out any information,” said Mr Foschi.