Divers, meanwhile, pulled out a woman’s body from the capsized Costa Concordia on Sunday, raising to 13 the number of people dead in the Jan. 13 accident. Italian Coast Guard divers on Saturday found a woman’s body in a corridor of a submerged section of the ship.
Civil protection official Francesca Maffini told reporters the victim found on Sunday was wearing a life vest and was found in the rear of a submerged portion of a ship by a team of fire department divers. The unidentified body was being removed from the ship.
Earlier, Italian authorities raised the possibility that the real number of the missing was unknown because some unregistered passengers might have been aboard. As of Sunday, 19 people are listed as missing, but that number could be higher.
“There could have been X persons who we don’t know about who were inside, who were clandestine” passengers aboard the ship, Franco Gabrielli, the national civil protection official in charge of the rescue effort, told reporters at a briefing on the island of Giglio, where the ship, with 4,200 people aboard rammed a reef and sliced open its hull on Jan. 13 before turning over on its side.
Gabrielli said that relatives of a Hungarian woman have told Italian authorities that she had telephoned them from aboard the ship and that they haven’t heard from her since the accident. He said it was possible that a woman’s body pulled from the wreckage by divers on Saturday might be that of the unregistered passenger.
But in addition to the body recovered on Sunday, the body found on Saturday and those of three men found a few days earlier, have yet to be identified, because the corpses were badly decomposed after so much time in the water. Gabrielli said they have identified the other eight bodies: four French, an Italian, a Hungarian, a German and a Spanish national.
Until Sunday, authorities had said that 20 people are still missing.
Holding out hope
Meanwhile, family members of a couple from the state of Minnesota still missing after last week’s cruise ship wreck say they’ve been meeting in Italy with rescue workers.
In an email statement sent Saturday night to news organizations, relatives of Jerry and Barbara Heil say the captain in charge of the operation indicated he wasn’t ready to give up hope that the missing can be found.
The family members say they and relatives of others missing from the Costa Concordia accident were taken out near the ship and allowed to place flowers in the water honoring their loved ones. They say the workers stopped what they were doing and saluted during the tribute.
The search had been halted for several hours early Sunday, after instrument readings indicated that the Concordia has shifted a bit on its precarious perch on a seabed just outside Giglio’s port. A few yards away, the sea bottom drops off suddenly, by some 65-100 feet, and if the Concordia should abruptly roll off its ledge, rescuers could be trapped inside.
The effort to find survivors and bodies has postponed an operation to remove heavy fuel in the Concordia’s tanks; specialized equipment has been standing by for days.
Light fuel, apparently from machinery aboard the capsized ship, was spotted in nearby waters, authorities said Saturday.
Searching for evidence
Meanwhile, police divers, carrying out orders from prosecutors investigating Captain Francesco Schettino for suspected manslaughter and abandoning the ship, swam through the cold, dark waters to reach his cabin. State TV and the Italian news agency ANSA reported that the divers located and remove his safe and two suitcases. His passport and several documents were also pulled out, state media said.
Searchers inspecting the bridge Saturday also found a hard disk containing data of the voyage, Sky TG24 TV reported.
The captain of the cruise ship told magistrates he informed the ship’s owners of the accident immediately, denying he had delayed raising the alarm, judicial sources said on Saturday.
Schettino has been blamed for causing the accident. He is under house arrest, accused of multiple manslaughter, causing a shipwreck and abandoning ship before all passengers were evacuated.
His statements to prosecutors investigating the disaster, reported in the Italian press and confirmed by judicial sources, underline the growing battle between him and Costa Cruise Lines which operates the 114,500 ton vessel.
As the death toll rises from the Costa Concordia, the ship’s captain is fighting back against allegations that he abandoned his post. NBC’s Michelle Kosinski reports.
According to transcripts of his questioning by prosecutors leaked to Italian media, he 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,” he said, adding he had asked the company to send tug boats and helicopters.
Costa Cruises Chief Executive Pier Luigi Foschi says Schettino delayed issuing the SOS and evacuation orders and gave false information to the company headquarters.
“Personally, I think he wasn’t honest with us,” Foschi told Corriere della Sera Friday. He said the first phone conversation between Schettino and Ferrarini took place 20 minutes after the ship hit the rock.