Italian cruise ship toll rises to 6, captain held

GIGLIO, Italy Mon Jan 16, 2012 5:51am EST

The Costa Concordia cruise ship is seen after it ran aground off the west coast of Italy, at Giglio island January 16, 2012.   REUTERS/ Max Rossi

The Costa Concordia cruise ship is seen after it ran aground off the west coast of Italy, at Giglio island January 16, 2012.

Credit: Reuters/ Max Rossi

GIGLIO, Italy (Reuters) - Rescue workers searching the half-submerged hulk of an Italian cruise ship for missing passengers and crew recovered a sixth body on Monday, more than 48 hours after the vessel capsized off Italy's west coast.

The captain of the 114,500-tonne Costa Concordia, arrested on Saturday, was accused of manslaughter and abandoning his ship before all of the more than 4,200 people on board had been evacuated.

Francesco Schettino's employers, Costa Crociere, said 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 as passengers were sitting down to dinner on Friday night, triggering scenes of panic with passengers jostling to get on lifeboats and some leaping into the icy sea.

Divers combing the vessel for 16 people unaccounted for said conditions had deteriorated since the weekend. "The sea is much rougher today, it's much more difficult to work," one said.

Three people, a South Korean honeymoon couple and a member of the ship's crew, were rescued on Sunday and police divers also recovered the bodies of two elderly men, still wearing emergency life jackets. The bodies of two French tourists and a Peruvian crew member were found on Saturday.

A sixth body, that of an adult male passenger, was found just before dawn on Monday, officials said.

Passengers say there were unexplained delays in organising the evacuation of those on board and this had resulted in chaos. More than 60 people were injured.

The vast hulk of the 290-metre-long ship, 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.

Giuseppe Linardi, prefect of the city of Grosseto, told reporters the number of those unaccounted for stood at 16 but that could change slightly as passenger lists were rechecked.

Paolo Tronca, a fire department official, said the search would go on "for 24 hours a day as long as we have to".

"SERIOUS HUMAN ERROR"

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.

Carnival Corp, the owner of the ship, said it estimated the impact on its 2012 earnings for loss of use alone to be around $90 million and that the vessel could be out for most of the rest of the year or longer.

Defence 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 the ship hit rocks that were not marked on maps and were not detected by navigation systems. He said the accident occurred some 300 metres 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.

(Writing by Philip Pullella and James Mackenzie, additional reporting by Philip Pullella, Silvia Ognibene and Kate Hudson; Editing by Janet Lawrence)