News / Europe

Desperate Cruise Ship Search Suspended

This picture shows a view of the cruise liner Costa Concordia aground in front of the harbor of the Isola del Giglio (Giglio island), January 18, 2012.
This picture shows a view of the cruise liner Costa Concordia aground in front of the harbor of the Isola del Giglio (Giglio island), January 18, 2012.

The wait for news is growing more desperate for relatives of passengers still missing from the cruise ship that ran aground off the northwest Italian coast.

Rescue workers suspended their search of the Costa Concordia Wednesday after the cruise ship shifted slightly.  Divers who have been trying to search submerged parts of the ship describe difficult conditions, most notably poor visibility.

Related - Italian Captain Refused Orders to Return to Ship

Officials say at least 11 people were killed and 20 are still missing when the ship hit rocks late Friday, turning over on its side. Relatives of the missing have been gathering in Porto Santo Stefano hoping to hear their loved ones have been found but many are growing impatient.

Madeleine Soria Molina's sister was a crew member on the Costa Concordia.  She told reporters, "I'm here to find my sister. I should do everything to find her." She also said time was running out.

Captain faces manslaughter charges

The ship's owners blame the accident on errors by the ship's captain, Francesco Schettino.  Schettino is under house arrest.  He faces charges of manslaughter and abandoning ship before all the passengers were rescued.

Schettino's lawyer defended the captain during a news conference Wednesday, saying his client "never left the scene."  Bruno Leporatti also said contrary to stories in the Italian media, Schettino was "deeply shaken" by the accident.

A relative of another missing crew member said he is confident Schettino will face justice, but that the charges are of little concern to him.  Kevin Rebello says the main priority for the families is "to look for their family members and to find them and see that they take them home safely."

Environmental danger

There are also concerns about the possible environmental damage the ship could cause.  Officials have been making plans to pump out the ship's fuel to prevent it from leaking into the sea.  

During a news conference with British Prime Minister David Cameron Wednesday, Italian Prime Minister Mario Monti said authorities are doing what they can to limit any harm to the environment.  He also said, "any such disaster could and should be avoided."

An audio recording released Tuesday of an angry exchange between the Italian Coast Guard and the captain of the capsized ship reveals that the captain refused orders to get back on his stricken boat.

Coast Guard Captain Gregory De Falco demanded that Captain Schettino use a ladder to climb back onto the damaged Costa Concordia and report how many people were still on board.  

But Schettino responded that he was not going anywhere, complaining that it was too dark on the boat. He said he was coordinating the rescue from a lifeboat. A furious Captain De Falco bellowed that he was now in charge and he ordered Schettino back on the boat, warning him that he was "going to pay" for his actions.

The owners say he steered too close to shore and made decisions during the emergency that did not follow company procedures, which they said are based on international standards.

Officials say that when the ship hit the rocks, passengers were ordered to put on life jackets and to board life rafts. However, passengers say the ship tilted so sharply and quickly that many lifeboats could not be lowered into the water.

The $450 million Costa Concordia cruise ship was carrying more than 4,200 passengers when it ran aground.

Some information for this report was provided by AP, AFP and Reuters.

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