GIGLIO, Italy (Reuters) - A criminal probe into the Costa Concordia’s doomed voyage, which ended with at least 15 dead and the cruise ship lying holed off the Italian coast, may be widened, a lawyer for the captain said on Monday.
The toll includes the bodies of two women, their nationalities so far unknown, found by divers on Monday.
Captain Francesco Schettino is accused of causing the accident and is under investigation for multiple manslaughter and abandoning the 450 million-euro ($590 million) ship before it was evacuated.
Schettino’s lawyer Bruno Leporatti said in a statement that evidence from his client about phone calls with the ship’s owners, Costa Cruises, at the time of the accident could lead to the investigation being widened.
He said the calls with Costa’s marine operation director had “opened further channels for investigation that could reasonably lead to an increase in the number of those under investigation.”
Third parties “could have at least contributed to creating the tragic event,” Leporatti said.
According to leaked transcripts from the investigation, Schettino has admitted steering too close to shore. Leporatti has said that while Schettino is willing to accept his share of responsibility, other factors were involved in the accident.
Investigators say he brought the ship to within 150 meters of the shore, apparently while performing a “salute” to the island. Schettino says this maneuver was common but the company says it should not be performed so close to the shore.
Costa Cruises, a unit of Carnival Corp, the world’s largest cruise ship operator, has suspended Schettino and declared itself an injured party in the case. It has said “unfortunate human error” by Schettino caused the disaster.
The vice president of Carnival Corp, Howard Frank, arrived in Italy on Sunday to help oversee the situation, according to a source close to the company.
Frank and Pier Luigi Foschi, chairman and chief executive of Costa Cruises, met some of families of the victims of the tragedy on Giglio island on Sunday, the source said.
Costa Cruises has not received any notification that it is being investigated, according to a company spokesman. The company will be forthright with investigators and has full faith in the magistrature, he added.
According to transcripts of Schettino’s questioning by prosecutors leaked to Italian media, the captain said that immediately after hitting the rock he sent two of his officers to the engine room to check on the state of the vessel.
As soon as he realized the scale of the damage, he called Roberto Ferrarini, marine operations director for Costa Cruises.
“I told him: ‘I’ve got myself into a mess, there was contact with the seabed. I am telling you the truth, we passed under Giglio and there was an impact’,” Schettino said.
“I can’t remember how many times I called him in the following hour and 15 minutes. In any case, I am certain that I informed Ferrarini about everything in real time.”
Separately, Leporatti said that Schettino tested negative in hair and urine tests for drug use, but was not tested for alcohol on the night of the accident.
If the probe is broadened, it will reduce the glare of the spotlight on Schettino, who has so far been assigned almost exclusive responsibility for the disaster. His first officer Ciro Ambrosio is also under investigation.
A judge has said Schettino showed “incredible carelessness” and a “total inability to manage the successive phases of the emergency,” according to documents from a hearing.
Search operations were still under way for nearly 20 bodies missing. Navy divers blasted underwater holes in the hull of the ship to provide additional points of access. Debris floated out and was gathered by coastguard boats.
An Italian navy ship, the Galatea, which is equipped with a sophisticated undersea radar system, has been sent to the area to help search for bodies.
Reports on Sunday of the possible presence of unregistered passengers, including one Hungarian woman, raised questions about the exact number of people missing.
Costa Cruises on Monday denied the presence of stowaways. The Hungarian foreign ministry said it had no news that any of its nationals had been secretly on board, according to Italy’s civil protection agency.
Franco Gabrielli, head of Italy’s civil protection authority, said the ship was stable and there appeared to be no immediate risk that it could slide off the rock outcrop where it is caught and slip into deeper waters.
He said search operations could continue, and operations to pump some 2,400 tons of fuel from the vessel could begin while the search for bodies was still under way.
On Tuesday, a platform boat for the fuel recovery team will be positioned hear the Costa Concordia and preparatory dives will be made, according to SMIT, the Dutch company hired to salvage the fuel.
Giglio’s economy depends on tourists seeking clean beaches and clear water for snorkeling and scuba diving. Its drinking water, too, is drawn from the sea and desalinated.
Reporting by Stephen Jewkes and Emilio Parodi in Milan, Silvia Ognibene in Florence and Illaria Polleschi in Grosseto. Writing by Steve Scherer; editing by Robert Woodward