REPORTING FROM ROME -– Divers searching the shipwrecked Costa Concordia off the Tuscan coast of Italy found eight bodies Wednesday afternoon in a submerged part of the cruise vessel, authorities said.
One of the bodies found on the fourth deck was the youngest victim so far, 5-year-old Dayana Arlotti, a spokeswoman for the Civil Protection Agency said.
Four of the bodies were recovered Wednesday, officials said. The other four are expected to be removed from the shipwreck Thursday.
Meanwhile, news reports said that prosecutors in nearby Grossetto said that four crew members and three employees of the Costa Crociere cruise company officially were placed under investigation Wednesday.
The discovery of the eight bodies brings to 25 the number of people confirmed dead in the tragic Jan. 13 accident when the Costa Concordia sailed too close to the Island of Giglio, slamming into rocks that tore a huge gash in the hull.
Seven of the approximately 4,200 passengers and crew on board for a Mediterranean cruise remain unaccounted for, the Civil Protection Agency said.
The eight bodies discovered Wednesday were in an area of the ship where survivors had told authorities people had been unable to escape, the spokeswoman said.
A special platform was built so that divers could retrieve the bodies quickly and spend as little time in the water as possible, the spokeswoman explained by telephone.
The ship’s captain, Francesco Schettino, remains under house arrest, accused of causing the shipwreck by steering the vessel dangerously close to the shore and of abandoning the ship in the middle of a chaotic evacuation before all the passengers were safe.
Prosecutors from Grosseto have been interviewing passengers, crew, maritime authorities on the ground, managers of the Costa Crociere and others to try to determine the dynamics of and responsibility for the shipwreck of the nearly 300-yard-long vessel.
The Civil Protection Agency said that about two-thirds of the nearly half-million gallons of fuel in cisterns on the ship had been safely removed and that the operation would continue. Constant monitoring of the delicate marine environment surrounding the ship has not turned up signs of serious pollution, the agency's spokeswoman said.
The ship is in a “relatively stable” position on a rocky ledge close to the coast of Giglio Island, she said.
Photo: Italian navy scuba divers return after working on the grounded cruise ship Costa Concordia off the Tuscan island of Giglio on Monday. Divers searching the capsized ship found eight more bodies Wednesday. Credit: Pier Paolo Cito / Associated Press