Two more bodies pulled from Costa Concordia
Published Monday, January 23, 2012 10:06AM EST
Two more bodies have been pulled from the wreckage of the Costa Concordia, the cruise ship grounded off the coast of Tuscany.
Divers recovered the bodies of two women from the ship's Internet café, the national civil protection agency official in charge of the search said Monday.
That brings the number of confirmed dead to 15.
Officially, there are now 17 people still missing. However, officials said over the weekend that there may have been unregistered guests on board at the time of the accident.
Franco Gabrielli, the Italian civil protection official in charge of the rescue effort, told reporters at a briefing Sunday that they have reason to believe a Hungarian woman was aboard the ship unregistered. The woman's relatives told them that the woman had telephoned from aboard the ship but that they haven't heard from her since.
Gabrielli said it was possible that a woman's body pulled from the wreckage on Saturday might be that of the unregistered passenger.
The Globe and Mail's Eric Reguly, reporting from Rome, says these unregistered passengers are creating a big problem for recovery officials.
"They don't actually know how many are missing. Officially, it's 19 but it could be several more. They just don't know because they don't know how many were unregistered on the ship," Reguly told CTV's Canada AM Monday morning.
"It's very, very strange because every person on that ship is photographed as they go up the gangplank."
Indeed, one of Concordia's rescued officers has dismissed allegation that stowaways could have been on the ship because of the electronic record-keeping.
The search for missing crew and passengers has been continuing around the clock since the Jan. 13 accident. Divers have been focusing on areas where the missing might have gathered for evacuation, as well as places where specific people were last seen.
Authorities have been able to identify only eight of the bodies recovered so far; the rest are badly decomposed after spending so long in the water.
Meanwhile, Italian officials are attempting to move ahead with plans to begin pumping half a million gallons of fuel from the capsized ship.
Dutch salvage company Smit has been ready for a week to begin pumping the heavy fuel from the ship's tanks. But civil protection official have been weighing whether to halt the search first to allow the pumping of the fuel, since the operation might present dangers to the divers.
Smit said Monday Italian authorities have indicated it can begin the removal once a second absorbent boom is in place around the ship, to protect the waters around the island of Giglio, which are prized for their fishing and which are home to whales and dolphins.
Already, some diesel and lubricants have leaked into the water near the ship, probably from machinery on board. Officials have characterized the contamination as superficial.
Besides the heavier fuel, there also are 185 metric tons of diesel and lubricants on board which will need to be removed at some point as well.
Reguly says there is pressure to move the fuel removal process along.
"The weather's been very good but that could change. And if it changes, you have the risk of leaking oil," he said.
The captain of the ship, Francesco Schettino, remains under house arrest as prosecutors investigate him for suspected manslaughter, causing a shipwreck and abandoning the ship while many were still aboard.
Reguly says there is now a real battle going on in the press about whether the captain was solely responsible for the Jan. 13 crash or whether the cruise company may have tacitly approved the captain's apparent maneuver to sail close to the island and impress passengers.
Operator Costa Crociere, a subsidiary of U.S.-based Carnival Cruise Lines, insists that Capt. Schettino deviated without permission from the vessel's route.
"The cruise ship company is trying to lay all the blame on the captain," says Reguly. "The captain is fighting back and saying this ‘fly-by' where he got very close to the shore, was authorized and approved and that it was even encouraged because it was good marketing for the cruise ship and the company. And there is some evidence of this."
Reguly notes that anyone considering launching a lawsuit over the disaster will be interested in knowing that it may not have been just the captain who might be culpable for the accident.