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6th victim found in Italian cruise ship wreck

January 16, 2012 |  7:52 am

REPORTING FROM ROME -- Hope of finding survivors on the half-submerged Costa Concordia waned Monday after rescuers found a sixth victim, three days after the giant luxury cruise liner ran aground off the Italian coast in an accident that increasingly appeared to have been avoidable.

Both judicial and media attention was concentrated Monday on ascertaining what led to the tragedy that investigators believe was due to an error by the ship’s captain, who remained in custody.

The sixth victim was a still unidentified male passenger who was found on the 2nd bridge of the ship wearing a life jacket.

Photos: Cruise liner runs aground

Search efforts were suspended for a time as weather conditions worsened and the ship's position shifted slightly, prompting Italy's environmental minister to warn that the risk of fuel leakage and subsequent ecological disaster for the Tuscan island of Giglio was "very high." The search was briefly resumed and then again suspended, for darkness.

Eyewitness accounts from passengers, crew, coast guard officials and port authorities served to bring into focus the probable cause of Friday night's maritime disaster: the ship steered close to shore so that island residents and passengers could salute each other.

Pier Luigi Foschi, president of Costa Crociere SpA, owner of the vessel, said in a news conference Monday that the captain, Francesco Schettino, 52, had “made a maneuver that was not approved, causing an accident by steering the boat away from the established route.”

"We cannot, unfortunately, deny human error,” he said.

Schettino was being held on charges of multiple manslaughter, causing a shipwreck and abandoning ship. Prosecutors said Schettino left the ship hours before passengers were safely evacuated and that they had arrested him because they feared he would flee the country or tamper with evidence.

Two Americans were among the 16 people that Italian authorities said were still missing, according to the U.S. Embassy in Rome. The Americans' identities have not been released.

Photos: Cruise liner runs aground

Special units from fire departments and the coast guard, including scuba divers and sniffer dogs, worked Monday until darkness ended the search.

Filippo Marini, a fire department spokesman, told Italian television: "The more time passes, the more difficult it is that we find someone alive on board, but we always hope and we are still in a phase where we could find someone still alive."

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 -- Sarah Delaney

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