Story updated 4:53 p.m. ET: The captain of the luxury cruise ship that capsized after hitting rocks off Italy had sailed perilously close to the coast to “make a bow” to people on a Tuscan island, according to media reports.
Francesco Schettino made the dangerous maneuver so that the Costa Concordia’s head waiter could salute his family on land, according to reports.
Schettino denies charges of manslaughter and his lawyer has said his actions had saved many lives.
The father of the ship’s head waiter told Reuters that his son had telephoned him before the accident to say the crew would salute him by blowing the ship’s whistle as they passed by the island of Giglio, where both the waiter, Antonello Tievoli, and his 82-year-old father Giuseppe live.
“The ship obviously came too close,” the elder Tievoli said, according to Reuters.
“I don’t know if Antonello asked the captain to come near, but the responsibility is always the captain’s.”
Meanwhile, Italian coast guard officials late Monday raised number of missing from shipwreck to 29 — four crew members and 25 passengers, a top coast guard official, Marco Brusco, said on state TV. That total is up from 16 cited by authorities earlier in the day. Bruno didn’t immediately explain the rise. Six bodies have been recovered.
Italy’s Corriere della Sera newspaper quoted witnesses as saying that shortly before the accident, the captain called the head waiter to the bridge saying, “Antonello, come see, we are very close to your Giglio.”
Schettino was detained on Saturday. He is accused of manslaughter and abandoning his ship before all those on board were evacuated. Prosecutors say he also refused to go back on board when requested by the coast guard.
Shortly before the ship hit the rocks, the waiter’s sister, Patrizia Tievoli, had posted on Facebookthat: “In a short period of time the Concordia ship will pass very close. A big greeting to my brother who finally gets to have a holiday on landing in Savona,” the Telegraph reported.
The sail-past was a private affair, part of a code of courtesy shared only by the crew, and there was no public announcement about it, according to Corriere della Sera.
After the head waiter reached the safety of dry land, he reportedly told friends and relatives on Giglio: “I would never have imagined that I’d end up disembarking on my own island like this,” the Telegraph reported, citing the Corriere della Sera report.
Costa Cruises Chief Executive Pier Luigi Foschi on Monday blamed errors by Schettino for the disaster. He said at a news conference the company would provide its captain with any assistance he required, although he added, “But we need to acknowledge the facts and we cannot deny human error,” he added.
“These ships are ultra-safe. It is an exceptional event, which was unforeseeable,” he said, fighting back tears.
He said the ship deviated from its correct route and Schettino had contravened safety procedures. “The company disavows such behavior, which caused the accident,” he said.
Foschi said company vessels were forbidden to come closer than 500 meters (547 yards) to the Giglio coast. Investigators say the liner, designed as a floating pleasure palace for over 3,000 paying customers, was about 150 meters (164 yards) offshore when it hit the rocks that tore a long gash in its thousand-foot hull.
Schettino denies being too close to the coast and says the rock he hit was not marked on charts.
His lawyer, Bruno Leporatti, issued a statement saying Schettino was “broken-up, troubled and saddened by the loss of life”. But he believed he had saved many lives by carrying out a difficult emergency maneuver with anchors after the accident, which turned the ship closer to the shore.
A Facebook page has been set up in which people are venting their anger at Schettino. The page had more than 1,000 “likes” as of Monday.
Meanwhile, authorities are trying to prevent the tragedy from turning into an environmental crisis, as rough seas battering the stricken mega-ship raised fears that fuel might leak into pristine waters off Tuscany that are part of a protected sanctuary for dolphins, porpoises and whales.
Waters that had remained calm for the first three days of the rescue turned choppy Monday, shifting the wreckage of the Costa Concordia a few inches and temporarily suspending divers’ searches for people still unaccounted for.
Italy’s environmental minister raised the alarm about a potential environmental catastrophe if any of the 500,000 gallons (2,300 tons) of fuel begins to leak into the pristine waters off Giglio, which are popular with scuba divers and form part of the protected Tuscan archipelago.
“At the moment there haven’t been any fuel leaks, but we have to intervene quickly to avoid an environmental disaster,” Corrado Clini told RAI state radio.
Story updated at 12 p.m. ET: While the hunt continues for missing passengers, including an American couple from Minnesota, Italian authorities have declared a state of emergency in a bid to prevent an environmental disaster. The country’s environment minister says liquid has started to emerge from the stricken Costa Concordia, but it is not known whether the substance is the vessel’s 500,000 gallons of fuel. Protective barriers are being put in place to contain a potential fuel leak, Reuters reports.
Story updated at 11:45 a.m. ET: The wrecked cruiseliner Costa Concordia could turn out to be the biggest insured loss in maritime history, with some suggesting insurers and mutual societies could end up shouldering $1 billion in losses, analysts and industry experts say. There will be two issues to contend with: the clubs of cruise ship companies that insure each other for personal injuries, shipwrecks and environmental damage; and the consortium of insurers who underwrite the ship itself. The ship is insured for 405 million euros ($513 million) by insurers including XL, RSA and Generali, industry sources told Reuters. Analyst Joy Ferneyhough at Espirito Santo bank in London said injury and other liability claims could push the total cost to insurers as high as $1 billion. “Initial comments from various insurers and underwriters over the weekend suggest that the insurance loss from the Costa Concordia will likely be $500 million – $1 billion,” she wrote in a note on Monday. Without adjusting for inflation, that would exceed the initial losses from the Exxon Valdez disaster in Alaska in 1989, according to Reuters.
Story updated at 10:50 a.m. ET: Among those still missing in the Italian cruise ship disaster are an American couple from Minnesota. Family members issued a statement Monday confirming that Barbara and Jerry Heil of White Bear Lake, a suburb of St. Paul, are the two Americans missing. A family spokesman gave the statement to The Associated Press outside the home of Aaron Heil, a son of the couple, in Albertville, a Minneapolis suburb. Sarah Heil, a daughter of the couple, told WBBM radio in Chicago that her retired parents were on a 16-day trip.
Story updated at 10:45 a.m. ET: Rescue divers have resumed their search of the stricken vessel, after they were earlier evacuated from the site due to safety concerns.
Story updated at 6:03 a.m. ET: NBC News is reporting all rescue divers have been evacuated from the Costa Concordia. NBC’s Laura Saravia in Porto Santo Stefano, Italy said the ship is rocking slightly due to choppy seas. “The movement is affecting divers working on rescue efforts inside, and they have been evacuated as a precaution. Rescue operations are suspended at this moment,” Saravia said.”There was a slippage of 9 centimeters (3.5 inches) vertically and 1.5 centimeters (0.6 inches) horizontally,” firefighters’ spokesman Luca Cari told Reuters. “We evacuated immediately. This is something we have been worried about. Operations are suspended. We will have to monitor the stability of the ship and we don’t know when we will resume operations,” he said. Fears have been expressed that the ship’s 500,000 gallons of fuel may begin to leak into the pristine waters around the island of Giglio.
Story updated at 5:55 a.m. ET: The chief executive of Costa Crociere Pier Luigi Foschi blames “human error” on the part of the captain for the grounding of its cruise ship off Tuscany. He says the liner had passed all safety and technical tests in its 2011 evaluation. He said Costa ships have their routes programmed, and alarms go off when they deviate. “This route was put in correctly. The fact that it left from this course is due solely to a maneuver by the commander that was unapproved, unauthorized and unknown to Costa,” he said. He says the company’s main concern was the safety and well-being of the passengers and crew, as well as to ensure fuel doesn’t leak out from the upended hull.
Story published at 2 a.m. ET: GIGLIO, Italy – Rescue workers searching the half-submerged hulk of a capsized Italian cruise ship found the body of an adult male just before dawn Monday, according to Italian television.
Sky News reported that the man was wearing a life jacket but that he was not found in a part of the ship that was submerged.
The news brought the death toll to six people with 60 injured more than 48 hours after the huge vessel capsized off Italy’s west coast.
Fourteen people were still missing, including nine passengers, one of them a young child according to Italian media, and five crew members, according to Reuters.
Three people, a South Korean honeymoon couple and a member of the ship’s crew, were rescued Sunday and police divers also recovered the bodies of two elderly men, still wearing emergency life jackets.
The captain of the 114,500 ton Costa Concordia was arrested Saturday, accused of manslaughter and abandoning his ship before all of the more than 4,200 passengers and crew had been evacuated.
Francesco Schettino’s employers, Costa Crociere, said in a statement Sunday that he appeared to have made “serious errors of judgment” and had brought the ship too close to shore, where it struck a rock that tore a large hole in the hull.
The disaster occurred when the ship struck a rock as dinner was being served Friday night, triggering scenes of panic that witnesses said were like the film “Titanic” with passengers jostling to get on lifeboats and some leaping into the icy sea.
Passengers say there were unexplained delays in organizing the evacuation of those on board and this had resulted in chaos.
The vast hulk of the 950-foot-long ship, half submerged and lying on its side, loomed over the little port of Giglio, an island in a maritime nature reserve off the Tuscan coast.
A large gash could be seen in its hull but salvage experts said its fuel tanks did not appear to have been damaged, lessening the danger of an oil spill in the pristine waters.
Paolo Tronca, a local fire department official, said the search would go on “for 24 hours a day as long as we have to.”
Investigators were working through evidence from the equivalent of the “black boxes” carried on aircraft to try to establish the precise sequence of events behind the disaster, which occurred in calm seas and clear weather.
‘Serious human error’
Defense Minister Giampaolo Di Paola, a naval admiral, said the disaster did not appear to have been caused by natural or technical factors.
“In my estimation there was a serious human error, which had dramatic and tragic consequences,” he told RAI state television.
Operators Costa Crociere said Schettino appeared to have failed to follow standard emergency procedures.
“The route followed by the ship was too close to the coast and it seems that his decisions on the management of the emergency did not follow the procedures of Costa Crociere,” said the company.
Prosecutors accused Schettino, who has worked for Costa Crociere since 2002 and who was promoted to captain in 2006, of leaving the ship before the evacuation was complete.
Coastguard officials said he had refused to return to the vessel when asked to.
Schettino has told Italian television that the ship hit rocks that were not marked on maps and were not detected by navigation systems. He said the accident occurred some 300 meters from shore.
Costa Crociere expressed “deep sorrow” for the disaster.
It said all crew had been properly trained in safety procedures and that the ship was fully equipped with life jackets, medical supplies and other safety equipment.