Tuesday, January 17, 2012

More Bodies Recovered From Costa Concordia As Questions Pile Up

Five more bodies were recovered from the Costa Concordia as rescue crews blasted holes in the hull of the ship to better gain access to areas of the ship that were previously hard to access.

New reports from Italian media outlets show that the captain, Francesco Schettino, did abandon ship before the passengers were safely rescued and that he refused to return to the ship even as he was ordered to; he's been charged in connection with those actions. In fact, Italian Coast Guard officials swore at Schettino to remain on board, and appeared to be exasperated with his actions:
Authorities in the port of Livorno seemed to believe the captain had abandoned ship with passengers still on board, a report in the Italian newspaper Corriere della Serra suggests.

"You get on board! This is an order!" the Coast Guard official instructed Capt. Francesco Schettino.

"You have declared 'Abandon ship.' Now I'm in charge. You get on board -- is that clear?" the port official said.

Schettino says at one point that he wants to go back on board, then refers to "other rescuers" and says something about a lifeboat being stuck.

Italian prosecutors confirmed that the quotes match ones in a transcript they were using in their investigation.
It still doesn't quite explain why the ship was so close to the coast and why it was off-course compared to the normal Costa routes. There were some reports claiming that the captain was making a close approach to the island on behalf of some member of the crew, but that still doesn't explain why they got that close - did the sonar function properly and did the crew use it to chart the course?

Some reports, unconfirmed as they are, claim that passengers saw the captain drinking prior to the accident. I have to think that the Italian authorities carry out some form of drug testing, but I haven't seen reports to confirm that. However, if there were delays in when any of that testing was done, it would reduce the chances that they'd find that he was indeed DUI.

At the same time of the desperate search and rescue operations, crews are looking to prevent an oil spill. The Costa Concordia carries 2,300 tons of fuel, and if it leaked, it would damage Europe's largest marine sanctuary.
Costa Crociere SpA, which operated the stricken Costa Concordia, has hired Smit Salvage, a unit of Royal Boskalis Westminster NV, to remove the fuel. Smit personnel and equipment have begun to arrive in the area and company divers hope to inspect the ship in the coming days, said Martin Schuttevaer, director of investor relations for Boskalis. The company plans a conference call today to brief the press on their plans.

Time is critical to removing the 500,000 gallons of fuel as deteriorating weather and shifts in the boat’s position increase the risk of a spill. Search and rescue operations had to be suspended for four hours yesterday after the Costa Concordia moved position in rising seas off the Italian island of Giglio.

“Ill weather is the greatest risk to the environment right now because high waves might move or break the ship causing fuel to leak,” Alessandro Gianni, campaign director of Greenpeace Italy operations, said in a phone interview. “Containment barriers that have been placed around the ship don’t work in high waves.”

Weather conditions since the accident have been calm, though a storm front is forecast to move into the area on Thursday.

The ship struck a reef off the island of Giglio on Jan. 13 after the captain overrode a pre-programmed route to sail close to the island, hours after the vessel left a port near Rome with 4,000 passengers and crew for a Mediterranean cruise. Six people are confirmed dead and rescue workers are still searching for survivors in the partially submerged cruise liner.

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