Foul weather halts rescue efforts

SS Italy Cruise Aground~6 (22390605) AP CAPSIZED: The cruise ship Costa Concordia lies on its side off the tiny Tuscan island of Giglio, Italy, yesterday. Picture: Gregorio Borgia / AP

Sapa-AFP

GIGLIO ISLAND, Italy

Italian rescuers were forced to suspend operations on the stricken Costa Concordia luxury liner yesterday, a week after a tragedy in which up to 32 people are feared to have died.

“Rescue workers were on the ship during the night. When it moved, the search was immediately suspended,” Filippo Marini, a coastguard spokesman, said at the scene.

He said emergency services would decide how to proceed. One option was to attach the ship to the mainland using cables to stop it moving again.

Officials are afraid the 17-deck giant could slip off a rocky ledge and sink entirely.

Choppy seas have increased this concern further.

As the weather deteriorated on Thursday, emergency crews attached rope ladders to the exposed side of the ship to ease access. The forecast was for waves of up to 1.5m.

Environmentalists and residents of this nature reserve and marine sanctuary fear there could be a spill from the ship’s tanks filled with 2 380 tons of heavy fuel oil and 200 tons of diesel.

Dutch firm Smit Salvage is ready to pump out the fuel in a “hot-tapping” operation but officials say the search on the ship would have to be suspended as the operation could affect the vessel’s stability.

“We’re ready to begin the operation. We were ready yesterday but we’re still waiting for the green light from the authorities. Now we’re just fine-tuning the instruments,” a Smit representative said.

Eleven have been confirmed dead including four French nationals, one Italian and one Spaniard among the passengers and two crew members – a Peruvian waiter and a Hungarian man who was a violinist on board. Three of the bodies recovered have not yet been identified.

Relatives of the 21 still missing have travelled to Giglio and towns in the mainland, clinging to the hope that their loved ones may somehow have survived.

Yesterday the Italian cabinet was to adopt measures for stricter regulation of shipping routes, after reports that the Costa Concordia veered wildly off route in a show-off manoeuvre to file past the island.

It was also expected to declare a state of emergency to ease large-scale salvage operations and contain any possible environmental damage – so far believed to be minimal.

The head of Costa Cruises said the captain had warned the company too late of the scale of the disaster.

Pier Luigi Foschi said the first call from Schettino to Costa came almost half an hour after the ship hit the rocks. The announcement to abandon ship came 68 minutes after that call.

Of Schettino he said: “He has always been considered very able on a technical level… but he could have some small problems with his character even if nothing emerged on a formal level. He was seen as a bit hard on his colleagues. He liked to show off.”

Foschi said he realised the scale of the disaster “only when the evacuation signal was issued. Personally I think (Schettino) wasn’t honest with us. I think he was in an emotionally altered state. He was watching his creature, his ship, sinking in front of him.”

Foschi said Schettino was acting on his own initiative by steering towards Giglio.


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