Italian rescuers resumed their search on board a crashed cruise ship on Thursday, as salvage workers prepared to pump out fuel from its tanks to avoid an environmental disaster.
The rescue operation had to be halted on Wednesday after the half-submerged ship shifted while rescuers were still inside, sparking fears that it could slip off its rocky resting place and plunge into the open sea.
But a coast guard spokesman tests had been carried out to ensure that it was safe to resume the search and they would detonate explosives to make it easier to get into the vessel.
“The tests during the night were positive and we have divers going down now,” coast guard spokesman Filippo Marini told reporters.
“We will then use the micro-explosives to open more holes. They will enter inside the ship and search for more people,” he said.
Rescuers have so far recovered 11 bodies from the disaster and 21 more people are missing out of the more than 4,200 who had been on board the Costa Concordia when it hit rocks off the island of Giglio on Friday.
Six of the victims have been formally identified: two French tourists, one Italian, one Spaniard as well as two members of the crew — one Peruvian and one Hungarian, who was a violinist on board.
“My brother stayed to help others… It should have been the captain who left the ship last,” said Kevin Rebello from Mumbai, whose brother Russel worked as a waiter on the ship and is one of the missing.
“The fact (that the captain) left early is something I just cannot get over. I’m very angry,” Rebello, who travelled to the tiny island to see the rescue operations on the 17-deck ship for himself, told AFP.
“If it had happened in another country, he would not be home now sipping coffee with his mum, he would be in prison. It’s not Disneyland, you’re playing with people’s lives,” he said.
Rebello said his brother is married and a has a two-and-a-half year old daughter. He began working on the Costa Concordia last October.
The luxury liner’s captain, Francesco Schettino, has been accused of multiple manslaughter and abandoning ship.
In transcripts of his interrogation by prosecutors on Tuesday that have been leaked to Italian daily Corriere della Sera, Schettino defended his actions but admitted that he had made “a mistake” in sailing so close to the shore.
But he reportedly added that “this itinerary had been decided from the departure of the ship in Civitavecchia.”
“I was sailing on sight because I know the area well and I’ve done the same manoeuvre three or four times. But this time I turned too late,” he said.
Schettino added, however, that after the impact he performed a complex manoeuvre that saved lives by steering the ship towards the island’s port.
He also said that he “fell over inside a lifeboat” when the boat tilted. He said he could not return on board after leaving the ship “because the space was obstructed” by boats that had come to help in the rescue operation.
The judge who heard Schettino in the town of Grosseto however said he had made “no serious attempt” to return to the ship after leaving it.
She also cited witness statements saying that he had been on the shore for hours simply watching the rescue operations.
The Costa Concordia was on the first day of its cruise and passengers were settling down to supper when it hit rocks off Giglio and keeled over.
There are 2,380 tons of fuel in its tanks — a fact that has alarmed environmentalists worried about the potential impact of a leak on the pristine nature reserve and marine sanctuary off the shores of Tuscany.
Dutch company Smit Salvage has said it is ready to pump out fuel before winds pick up later on Thursday, with widespread concern among rescue teams that choppy seas could force a suspension of search and salvage efforts.
Salvage workers say there is currently no danger of large scale pollution off Italy’s scenic Giglio Island but admit there is still a risk.
Smit Salvage spokesman Kees Van essen said the operation to pump out heavy oil and 200 diesel was expected to take between two to four weeks.
There will then be discussions between salvage companies and the ship’s owners on how to remove the 17-deck ship’s wreck if possible.
The ship’s owner, Costa Cruises, one of the world’s biggest cruise operators, said it was contacting each surivor from the wreck individually to express regret and confirm reimbursements and compensation for expenses.
“Costa Cruises confirms that it is contacting all its guest involved in this sad incident of the Costa Concordia to aks about their return, their state of health and the confirm the reimbursement,” it said in a statement.
Some passengers have said they plan to launch a class action lawsuit.