* Minister says risk of environmental disaster high
* Environmentalists says routes should be better regulated
* Ship carrying highly polluting "heavy fuel"
* Minister says state of emergency will be declared, freeing
By Philip Pullella
ROME, Jan 16 As the Costa Concordia
shifted dangerously on Monday, Italy's environment minister
raised the prospect of an environmental disaster if the 2,300
tonnes of fuel on the half-submerged cruise ship leaks.
The ship's fuel tanks were full, having just left the port
of Civitavecchia, north of Rome, for a week-long Mediterranean
cruise, when it ran aground on Friday.
Rescue workers have recovered six bodies from the vessel and
officials say 16 of the 4,200 passengers and crew are missing.
The area where the ship capsized, off the island of Giglio,
is a natural maritime park noted for its pristine waters, varied
marine life and coral. It is known as an excellent diving site.
"The environmental risk for the island of Giglio is very,
very high," Environment Minister Corrado Clini told reporters.
"The aim is to prevent the fuel leaking out of the ship. We are
working to avoid this. It is urgent and time is running out."
Clini later told reporters in Livorno, up the Tuscan coast,
that the cabinet would call a state of emergency. This would
free up funds to prevent an environmental disaster or to deal
The 290-metre-long ship is resting on an undersea ledge in
15-20 metres of water but salvage workers fear it could slip
down the slope, which falls away sharply into much deeper water.
The ship shifted on its rocky ledge in worsening weather on
Monday but after a brief suspension, rescue efforts resumed.
"We are now in the emergency phase of trying to prevent
pollution," said Pier Luigi Foschi, chairman and CEO of the
ship's owners Costa Cruises, who said the disaster was due to
"human error" by the captain.
The ship is carrying heavy fuel, or bunker fuel. Because of
its density, it is harder to pump out unless it is heated or
Clini said some liquid was leaking from the ship but it was
not clear if it was fuel. A protective barrier was being put in
place just in case.
BIG SHIP BAN?
Environmental groups have for years been asking that huge
ships be banned from coming too close to the Tuscan archipelago,
made up of the islands of Giglio, Montecristo, Pianosa, Elba,
Capraia and Gorgona.
"These monstrous floating cities pollute the scenery with
their very presence and the rivers, seas and cities where they
stop with the refuse that they produce," said Alessandra Motola
Molfino, national president of Italy's national conservation
group, Italia Nostra (Our Italy).
"The disaster of the Costa Concordia unfortunately proves
the insubstantiality of the type of tourism that exploits and
tramples on Italy's beauty and cultural heritage and does not
produce any growth or wellbeing," she told Reuters.
Clini said keeping large ships away from environmentally
sensitive areas was "common sense" as Italy's natural beauty was
"a fundamental resource" for the tourist industry.
Salvage companies are in place to try to remove the fuel
after surrounding the vessel with a floating barrier. Dutch
maritime services company SMIT has been asked by the ship's
owner and insurer to pump out oil and clean it up if it started
A salvage expert on Giglio, who asked not to be named, said
the ship was "definitely moving". He said it appeared to be held
firm by points of rock which had pierced the hull, but with the
rougher sea there was a risk it could break free, which he said
would be "a big problem".
Foschi said the plan would be to remove the fuel then raise
the ship with balloons and tow it away from shore. If that
fails, he said he could not exclude that the ship would have to
be cut into pieces.