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Jan 17, 2012

Cruise ship owner criticizes captain as death toll hits 6

Coconucumo _ | Jan 17, 2012

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by Dario Thuburn, Agence France-Presse

GIGLIO ISLAND - The owner of the luxury liner that ran aground off the coast of Italy, killing at least six people, said its captain had made "errors of judgment" as the search continued for the missing.

Rescuers desperately working through the night found the body of a man in the wreckage of the Costa Concordia early Monday, taking the death toll from the disaster to six, the ANSA news agency reported.

About 15 people, including Italians, Americans and French nationals, are still missing after the massive ship hit rocks and capsized off the island of Giglio late Friday shortly after it began a seven-day Mediterranean cruise.

"It seems that the commander made errors of judgement that had serious consequences," said a statement from the liner's owner Costa Crociere, referring to Captain Francesco Schettino.

"His decisions in the management of the emergency did not follow Costa Crociere's procedures which are in line with international standards."

The prosecutor leading the investigation, Francesco Verusio, told reporters that Schettino, who was arrested Saturday with first officer Ciro Ambrosio, had left the stricken liner "well before" the last passengers were evacuated.

Coast guard officials also said the captain ignored repeated requests from them to return to his ship as the rescue operation continued.

"The route followed by the ship was not the right one," Verusio said Sunday, accusing Schettino of having "approached Giglio island in a very clumsy manner."

Prosecutors have also said the crew mishandled the emergency, delaying the start of the evacuation until an hour after the accident, and survivors have spoken of scenes of utter chaos and panic on board the 17-deck liner.

Genoa-based Costa Crociere, which is Europe's biggest cruise operator, said it was cooperating with prosecutors in the probe.

On Sunday, emergency teams rescued two South Korean honeymooners and an Italian crewman suffering a broken leg.

But the bodies of a Spanish man and an Italian were also discovered on Sunday in the submerged part of the vessel, after the deaths of two French passengers and a Peruvian crew member were confirmed on Saturday.

Medical sources said around 60 people had been injured, two seriously.

Fire brigade spokesman Luca Cari said the honeymooners had been evacuated by helicopter and were in "perfect condition".

Han Ki-Deok and his wife Jeong Hye-Jin, both 29-year-old schoolteachers, said in an interview with South Korea's Yonhap news agency that they had been sleeping after dinner, oblivious to the disaster outside.

"By the time we woke up, the ship was tilting," Yonhap quoted Han as saying in a hotel in Rome.

The pair stayed in their dark cabin with no power, subsisting on bits of cookie and water and shouting for help until they were hoarse.

Rescuers said the search in the ship was highly dangerous because the decks were pitched at almost a 90-degree angle and there was a risk the ship could slip off the rocks it had struck and sink altogether.

Fire crew chief Cosimo Pulito said they would keep searching until the whole ship had been covered but the emergency services unit warned that bad weather was expected from Thursday, which would complicate rescue operations.

The Concordia, the flagship of Costa Crociere's fleet, was carrying more than 4,200 people when it hit the rocks before running aground on Friday the 13th, just as many passengers were settling down to dinner.

Several passengers have described confusion on board as the lights went out and how they were at first told it was just an electrical fault -- before the ship lurched sharply on its side and panic set in.

Some have likened the disaster to the Titanic, which sank in the Atlantic with some 1,500 people on board on its maiden voyage in April 1912.

"In one corridor we smashed a window and took the life jackets," one passenger, Antonietta Simboli, told Italian newspapers. "But as there weren't a lot of them, we were stealing them from each other."

US national Amanda Warrick told CNN how the situation degenerated.

"Those were the most chaotic moments because everyone was pushing, shoving each other, trying to get on a lifeboat. It was chaos," she said.

French tourist Olivier Carrasco said he would sue the cruise operator.

"It took an hour and a half before a real alert was sent out," he told French newspaper Sud-Ouest, adding that the light on his life vest failed.

Island residents have already said the ship was sailing far too close to Giglio and had hit an underwater rocky reef well known to inhabitants.

Defence Minister Giampaola Di Paola described it as "a serious human error that has had dramatic consequences".

Investigators on Sunday started analyzing a "black box" recovered by rescuers, which logged the 291-meter long ship's movements and conversations between personnel.

The Italian media are reporting that the ship's two most senior officers could face charges of multiple homicide and abandoning the ship before all the passengers were rescued.

Other crew members however said that they participated in the evacuations.

"We saved between 500 and 600 people. I made a dozen trips with the lifeboat, it was cold and windy," Colombian crewman Edgard Lopez Sanchez told AFP.

"We are the heroes -- the Colombians, the Hondurans, the Chinese, the crew made up of 20 nationalities," he said.

The people on board included some 60 nationalities, although nearly a third of the passengers were Italian, followed by Germans and French.

The disaster happened just hours after the ship had left the port of Civitavecchia near Rome -- and before passengers had had time to take part in the ship's emergency drill.


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