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REPORTING FROM ROME -– Rescue workers raced against time Sunday afternoon in attempts to reach possible survivors of a shipwrecked luxury cruise vessel lying half-submerged off the coast of Tuscany.
An injured Italian member of the crew of the Costa Concordia was saved in a complicated operation Sunday afternoon, while a young South Korean couple on honeymoon was pulled to safety from their stateroom late Saturday night.
The crew member is being identified in news reports as Marrico Giampetroni, who is credited with helping many people safely off the damaged vessel. He was taken via helicopter directly to the hospital in Grosseto for injuries to his leg. "I kept up hope that I would be rescued," news reports quoted him as saying.
[Updated 12:40 p.m. Jan. 15: Still, 15 of the more than 4,200 passengers and crew aboard the giant vessel had not been accounted for as of Sunday evening, according to officials. Authorities fear they may have been trapped when the ship ran aground just off the coast of the tiny island of Giglio and rolled over on its right side after hitting rocks that tore open the hull late Friday evening.
Scuba divers on Sunday retrieved the bodies of two men from the submerged lower levels, bringing to five the number of dead. The bodies of two Frenchmen and a Peruvian crew member had previously been found.]
Authorities were evaluating the hypothesis that the captain steered the ship too close to the island to take a “bow” or salute the residents of the island, an apparently common practice by cruise ships, according to news reports.
The ship’s black box was retrieved and was being examined.
The captain, Francesco Schettino, 52, has been arrested and is being held in the nearby town of Grosseto on charges of multiple manslaughter, causing a shipwreck and abandoning ship. Police and magistrates were trying to determine why he had brought the huge ship within about 300 yards of the rocky coast.
Chief investigating magistrate Francesco Verusio of Grosseto said the ship captain had intentionally “taken a route that [he] shouldn’t have,” bringing the nearly 1,000-foot, 126,000-ton vessel off the established nautical route and too close to the dangerous coastal rocks.
The captain has said that he had steered the ship on an authorized path but that it had run onto rocks that weren’t marked on the maritime maps, a version authorities immediately disputed. He is also accused of leaving the ship shortly after midnight, some five hours before the last of the passengers known to be on the ship were safely removed.
Most of the more than 4,200 passengers and crew jumped in the water or were evacuated in lifeboats in dramatic and chaotic conditions after the ship struck the rocks as dinner was being served. Passengers described a horrible, groaning noise, the lights going out, and plates, tables and chairs sliding as the ship swiftly listed to starboard.
Survivors described a terrifying chaos in which people fought over life vests and lifeboats were stuck and unusable, while hundreds of people jumped into the icy winter waters and reached the shore on their own or were picked up by boats called to the scene. Crew members did not appear well-trained to act in an emergency, many passengers said.
Coast Guard spokesman Cosimo Nicastro said emergency workers continued to search nonstop for other survivors. Operations are extremely dangerous because the ship was lying on its side, against rocks, at about an 80-degree angle, with a drop of some 230 to 260 feet, he said.
Vincenzo Bennardo, a spokesman for fire department rescuers, said the search was going on in a very methodical manner, but that the position of the vessel made it necessary to use ropes and move on hands and knees.
He said that anyone trapped in a stateroom would have difficulty getting access to the door, which could be above them where the ceiling should be or below them, submerged in the water.
-- Sarah Delaney
Photo: Rescue operations continue on the cruise ship Costa Concordia after it ran aground off the island of Giglio, Italy. Credit: Maurizio Degl' Innocenti / EPA