Rome expands cruise ship probe as bodies found

FLORENCE, Italy Wed Feb 22, 2012 4:58pm EST

Oil recovery ships are seen around the Costa Concordia cruise ship which ran aground off the west coast of Italy at Giglio island in this January 21, 2012, file photo.  REUTERS/Giampiero Sposito/Files

Oil recovery ships are seen around the Costa Concordia cruise ship which ran aground off the west coast of Italy at Giglio island in this January 21, 2012, file photo.

Credit: Reuters/Giampiero Sposito/Files

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FLORENCE, Italy (Reuters) - Italian prosecutors placed four ship's officers and three company executives under investigation Wednesday in connection with the Costa Concordia cruise ship disaster as divers found eight more bodies on the wreck including that of a 5-year-old girl.

The officers and executives from Costa Cruises, the stricken vessel's operator, join the ship's captain Francesco Schettino and first officer Ciro Ambrosio who are being formally investigated.

A spokesman for the company would not identify the new group of defendants.

The Concordia, carrying more than 4,200 passengers and crew, foundered off the Italian coast on January 13 after it came close into shore off the island of Giglio where a rock tore a gash in its side and it capsized.

At least 25 people died and seven remain unaccounted for.

Divers located the bodies on deck four of the partly submerged wreck. They included the body of 5-year-old Dayana Arlotti, whose father also died in the accident.

Bad weather has hampered recovery efforts and crews have been forced to wait until conditions improve before they try to get all the bodies off the ship.

Schettino faces charges of multiple manslaughter, causing an accident and abandoning ship before the evacuation of all of those on board was complete. A pre-trial hearing is due to begin on March 3.

As well as the criminal case, a wave of civil actions is also expected and dozens of passengers have joined a Florida lawsuit accusing the ship's owners of gross negligence and fraud.

The ship's operators Costa Cruises, a unit of Carnival Corp, the world's largest cruise group, issued a statement saying it had full confidence in judicial authorities and would cooperate fully with the investigation.

It has previously placed the blame for the accident on Schettino's shoulders but Wednesday it gave its backing to other Costa staff placed under investigation, saying they had worked with great professionalism and selflessness after the accident.

Salvage crews are still working on pumping almost 2,400 tons of diesel fuel from the vast hulk, which lies partially submerged just meters from the shore of Giglio, a popular holiday island in a maritime reserve off the Tuscan coast.

There had been fears that oil could leak from the wreck, causing an environmental disaster.

(Writing by James Mackenzie; Editing by Roger Atwood and Andrew Osborn)

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