Costa Concordia shipwreck shifts, halting rescue work
REPORTING FROM ROME -– The search for people still missing from the Jan. 13 wreck of a luxury cruise ship was temporarily suspended Friday because of a shift in the position of the 114,500-ton vessel resting on the rocky coast of the island of Giglio.
Scuba divers, speleologists and other elite rescue teams working inside the ship for much of the night were also hindered by worsening weather and high waves.
Coast guard spokesman Cosimo Nicastro said experts were trying to determine the reason for the movement of the ship, but that its position was unstable even without bad weather.
Officially, the search for survivors continued, although there was little hope of finding any of the 21 missing people alive.
Eleven have been confirmed dead in the disaster since the Costa Concordia steered too close to the island, hit a rock and keeled over, sending more than 4,200 passengers and crew into a desperate rush to escape the sinking ship.
Investigators are using ship logs, recordings of telephone calls, coast guard records, satellite tracking systems, videos shot by passengers and other eyewitness accounts to reconstruct the tragedy.
Capt. Francesco Schettino is under house arrest on charges of multiple manslaughter, causing a shipwreck and abandoning ship.
Prosecutors from Grosseto, a small coastal city close to Giglio in Tuscany, strongly disagreed with a judge’s decision to release Schettino from jail and are seeking a higher court order to reverse the decision.
News reports said that prosecutors wanted to question a 25-year-old Moldavian woman who may have been on the command deck with Schettino at the time of the accident, about 9:45 p.m. In an interview in the daily Corriere della Sera, the woman, Domnica Cemortan, said from her home in Bucharest, Romania, that she was an employee of the cruise company Costa Crociere on vacation.
In the interview, she said she was on deck because she was translating Schettino's orders into Russian over the loudspeaker. She said that she repeated several times the order to passengers to return to their cabins and that the ship had suffered only a power outage.
Electronic recordings and accounts from passengers, crew and port authorities show that Schettino waited about an hour before calling for an evacuation of the ship. Videos taken even 45 minutes after the ship hit the rock that tore open the left side of the hull show the ship still relatively upright.
But by the time evacuation finally began, crew and passengers had difficulty putting the lifeboats into position because of the sharp list of the ship to starboard.
Investigators are awaiting the results of toxicology tests to see if Schettino was under the influence of drugs or other substances at the time of the accident.
Costa Crociere on Thursday suspended him from duty and asked the Grosseto prosecutor to include it in the investigation as a victim of the captain’s actions.
Pier Luigi Foschi, chairman and chief executive of Costa Crociere, has said that Schettino made the hazardous passage in front of the island of his own volition and that it was against company rules to come so close to the coast.
But many commentators say that the practice of "taking a bow," or using the ship’s horns and blinking lights to salute coastal towns on many parts of the picturesque Italian coast, is common practice on many cruise lines.
Environmental Minister Corrado Clini said he would propose laws Friday that would require liners to keep about two miles away from shore. That would prohibit cruise ships from plying the waters of the Grand Canal of Venice as well.
-- Sarah Delaney
Photo: Divers enter the wrecked cruise ship through a broken window. Credit: ANSA