France opens inquiry into Costa Concordia shipwreck

PARIS Thu Feb 2, 2012 8:01am EST

Oil barriers are seen next the Costa Concordia cruise ship that ran aground off the west coast of Italy, at Giglio island February 2, 2012. REUTERS/ Max Rossi

Oil barriers are seen next the Costa Concordia cruise ship that ran aground off the west coast of Italy, at Giglio island February 2, 2012.

Credit: Reuters/ Max Rossi

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PARIS (Reuters) - The Paris prosecutor's office opened a preliminary inquiry on Thursday into the causes of the Costa Concordia cruise ship disaster in Italy last month, following a decision to group together legal complaints by relatives of French victims.

The prosecutor's office said survivors of the shipwreck off the Tuscan coast would be questioned in the investigation, as it seeks to establish whether there are criminal liabilities in the case and assess psychological damage caused by the accident.

Four French nationals were among the 17 casualties whose bodies were recovered after the 114,500-tonne Costa Concordia hit a rock.

Some 15 people, two of them French, are still unaccounted for and a criminal investigation is under way in Italy, with the cruise ship's captain, Francesco Schettino, facing charges of multiple manslaughter and abandoning ship before the evacuation of more than 4,200 passengers and crew was complete.

Costa Cruises has offered 11,000 euros ($14,500) in compensation to each of the passengers aboard the liner, in a bid to limit the legal fallout of the accident, but that has not stopped a flurry of legal complaints being filed around France.

There were 462 French people on board the cruise. After meeting last week with representatives of a victims' association based near the city of Bordeaux, the French justice ministry took a decision to group all the French complaints together.

The French inquiry could run in parallel with the Italian inquiry or be used to complement it.

Costa Cruises is a unit of Miami-based Carnival Corp., the world's biggest cruise operator.

($1 = 0.7577 euros)

(Reporting by Thierry Leveque; Writing by Catherine Bremer; Editing by Sophie Hares)

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