Death toll rises to 11

Costa Concordia rescue.jpgDivers searching for survivors inside a stricken cruise ship off the Italian coast found five more bodies on Tuesday, as prosecutors grilled the arrested captain over his role.

The bodies were discovered after the Italian navy used explosives to blow holes in the wreck of the Costa Concordia to help in the hunt for those still missing after Friday's disaster off the Tuscan island of Giglio.

"Scuba divers found five more bodies in the stern of the ship," Cristiano Pellegrini, a Giglio official, told AFP, but said their identities were not yet known.

The death toll has now risen to 11, leaving about two dozen still missing of the 4,200 people on board when the ship went down on Friday,

Earlier, officials had said that 12 Germans, six Italians, four French, two Americans, one Hungarian, one Indian and one Peruvian were still unaccounted for. There were also reports of a missing five-year-old Italian girl.

The huge Costa Concordia cruise liner hit rocks and pitched over off the picturesque Tuscan island of Giglio on Friday, and survivors have recounted scenes of chaos after the disaster struck.

A black box transcript showed Francesco Schettino -- who is reported to have sailed so close to the shore to please a local crew member -- ignored a port official's order to return on deck after abandoning the stricken ship.

"Get back on board now, for fuck's sake. You must tell us how many people, children, women and passengers are there," the official tells Schettino, according to the recording on one of the ship's "black boxes".

"What are you doing? Are you abandoning the rescue?" the official says.

Schettino, 52, was being interrogated Tuesday by Italian prosecutors, who have accused him of multiple manslaughter and abandoning ship before all the passengers were rescued, although he has not yet been formally charged.

A judge was to rule whether to grant bail for Schettino, who was arrested on Saturday along with the first officer Ciro Ambrosio. Prosectors called for him to be kept in custody.

The victims identified so far include two French passengers, an Italian and a Spaniard and one Peruvian crew member.

The Italian press reported that as the vessel began to pitch over, crew members initiated the evacuation procedure themselves -- 15 minutes before Schettino eventually gave the command, Italian press reported.

Island residents have already said the ship was sailing far too close to Giglio and had hit a reef known as the School Rocks, well known to inhabitants.

"It was bravado, Schettino was showing off, clowning around, it was incredibly stupid. I would sentence him not once but 10 times," said a former captain who worked with the ship's owner, Costa Crociere.

Costa Concordia's owners said Monday that the accident occurred as a result of an "inexplicable" error by the captain.

"He carried out a maneuver which had not been approved by us and we disassociate ourselves from such behavior," said Pier Luigi Foschi, the boss of Costa Crociere, Europe's largest cruise operator.

As fears rose of an environmental disaster if the ship's fuel tanks rupture and leak, coastguard spokesman Filippo Marini said crews had laid down absorbent booms after noticing "an iridescence" in the waters off Giglio, a marine sanctuary and popular holiday spot.

Current forecasts say a storm is expected to lash the rocky island on Thursday, raising fears that the 114,500-tonne ship could sink entirely.

Over 70 Italian passengers have joined a class action suit against the owner, consumer rights association Codacons said Tuesday.

Mario Palombo, a former captain of the doomed Costa Concordia with whom Schettino served as first mate for four years, told investigators that he was "too high-spirited and a dare devil."

Local officials are calling for strict curbs in the future on shipping routes in an area of outstanding natural beauty and the government is expected to declare a state of emergency there later this week.

Smit, a specialist Dutch salvage company, began assessing the site on Tuesday and plans to begin pumping out the fuel this week, although it said it would take at least three weeks to complete the operation.

"We have around 15 or so divers who will carry out the first inspection dive today. We're still waiting for diving equipment and specialized tools to start transferring the fuel off the ship," Smit supervisor Rene Robben said.

Officials said the giant ship itself could then be taken off Giglio in an unprecedented operation using massive floating devices.

Passengers have described confusion and panic on board as the lights went out and the ship lurched sharply over to its side just as many were sitting down to dinner shortly after the start of the seven-day Mediterranean cruise.

Source: The Daily Star