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Search continues for cruise ship survivors; captain is questioned

January 17, 2012 |  6:03 am


This report has been updated. See the note below.

REPORTING FROM ROME -- Teams of explosives experts Tuesday blasted openings inside the wrecked Costa Concordia luxury liner to facilitate the increasingly futile search for survivors of last week’s shipwreck.

The confirmed death toll from the pleasure cruise-turned-nightmare off the Tuscan coast remained at six.

[Updated 7:25 a.m.,Jan. 17: Italian media were reporting Tuesday that the bodies of four men and one woman were found in the submerged portion of the ship's stern, which if verified would raise the toll to 11. One appears to have been a crew member.]

The number of missing continued to vary wildly as reports from Germany, France and Italy of missing relatives forced local authorities to revise their count. On Tuesday morning, at least 29 people were said to be missing, including two Americans.

PHOTOS: Cruise liner runs aground

The ship’s captain, Francesco Schettino, 52, was questioned in an indictment hearing in the coastal city of Grosseto on Tuesday. He has been accused of steering the giant vessel too close to the rocky shore of the island of Giglio in a “reckless” maneuver and abandoning the ship before the evacuation was completed.

A recording of a chilling telephone conversation between the captain and an officer from the port authorities in Livorno was replayed on Italian television and news websites. On it, the incredulous port officer repeatedly orders a confused-sounding Schettino back to the ship to manage the emergency, an order he does not follow.

Italian media reported that after 9:45 p.m. on Friday, when the ship hit rocks that tore open the hull, some crew members took matters into their own hands and began evacuation procedures because the captain did not call an emergency until more than an hour later.

Other phone conversations between the captain and port authorities published in Italian newspapers show Schettino denying there was a serious problem even as water poured into the engine room and as frightened passengers alerted local police. 

Executives from Costa Crociere, the company that owns the ship, have said that Schettino acted on his own, deviating from the programmed route of the cruise and from established emergency procedures.

The Coast Guard on Tuesday released a black-and-white video shot from a helicopter about three hours after the Costa Concordia hit rocks last Friday night. Hundreds of passengers are shown trying to leave the overturned ship by rope ladders and dispersed on other parts of the vessel.

Meanwhile, the necessity to empty the ship’s cistern of some 2,300 tons of fuel became more pressing after spots of oil were seen floating around the ship and worsening weather conditions were forecast for later in the week, with rain and high waves expected Friday.

Operations to extract fuel from the ship will not begin until search efforts are called off, authorities said.


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-- Sarah Delaney