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Search continues

January 22, 2012

Divers continued their search efforts on the Costa Concordia Sunday after the wreck shifted. A hard disk salvaged from the ship could shed light on the captain's actions as the ship ran aground.

Rescue teams circling The capsized Costa Concordia
Search efforts were stopped when the ship slightly slippedImage: dapd

Divers plumbing the capsized Costa Concordia's murky depths temporarily ceased then restarted their search efforts on Sunday because the stricken ship slipped precariously on the rocky bed where it ran aground 10 days ago.

Instruments monitoring any movement of the cruise ship indicated that the vessel had shifted slightly.

The divers, however, retrieved a hard disk late Saturday with video footage from security cameras on the ship's bridge, which could shed light on the captain's actions. They also salvaged a safe and documents from the captain's quarters.

Rescuers recovered the body of a 12th victim of the disaster on Saturday afternoon, nine days after the ship hit rocks off Itay's Giglio island and keeled over. The body of a woman wearing a life jacket was found near to the stern near a staging point.

Eight of the victims have now been officially identifed. They include four French nationals and one each from Germany, Italy, Spain and Hungary.

On Saturday, divers from the Italian Navy helped the rescue operation by blowing holes in the hull to allow search teams into new parts of the ship in the hopes that some people may be found alive in air pockets. But those hopes have been fading.

Given the cold weather and water temperatures, the chances of finding survivors are "now remote," according to Coast Guard spokesman Cosimo Nicastro.

The country's civil protection agency, which took command of the rescue site on Saturday, said the search would go on amid fears of a possible oil leak.

Costa Concordia slips further into the sea
An environmental disaster is brewingImage: dapd

"We have put no time limit on the search. We hope to combine the rescue mission with the removal of the oil but will wait for the findings before taking a decision," said agency head Franco Gabrielli. Gabrielli said he had asked a committee for a fresh technical analysis of the "incredibly complex" situation.

The efforts, now in their seventh day, had to be repeatedly stopped due to dangerous currents in the water, which have made the ship slip further down.

The vessel is stuck on a rocky sea shelf and is slowly slipping off at around one centimeter (0.4 inches) per hour, according to experts. If it sinks completely, the 2,300 tons of oil it has onboard will seep out into the area surrounding the Tuscan archipelago - home to Europe's biggest marine sanctuary and several popular beach resorts.

State of emergency

Italian media on Friday reported the government had issued a state of emergency for the region.

Dutch company Smit Salvage has said it is ready to pump out the ship's fuel in what is known as a "hot-tapping" operation, but officials say that would require suspending the search.

The Costa Concordia was shipwrecked with 4,200 people onboard on January 13 after the captain allegedly changed the ship's course to get closer to the island Giglio so a staff member could wave to his family.

Fifty-one-year-old Captain Francesco Schettino was taken into custody a day after the accident and is under house arrest near Naples. He is facing multiple charges of manslaughter, abandoning ship and causing a shipwreck.

A tape recording of his conversation with the coast guard after the accident was released on Tuesday. In it, the authorities can be heard repeatedly asking Schettino to return to the ship and assist with the evacuation. After refusing a number of times, the captain finally agreed to return. Whether or not he did is under investigation.

Jumping ship

Schettino denied he left the ship on purpose, but that he slipped off and into an evacuation boat instead. According to Italian law, it is a punishable crime for a captain to leave the ship before passengers.

Giglio coast
The Tuscan Archipelago is a popular holiday destinationImage: AP

Pierluigi Foschi, the head of the vessel's owner, Costa Crociere, told Italian state TV on Friday that his company had not been able to offer proper assistance because the captain had provided misleading information on the situation.

Costa has suspended Schettino and announced it will no longer pay his legal fees. The company has signed on as a civil party in the prosecution, which means it could seek damages in the case of a guilty verdict.

Footage from the aftermath of the crash recently released shows a crew member asking the passengers to stay calm and return to their cabins.

A class action suit has been taken out by over 70 of the ship's passengers against the ship's owner.

Author: Sarah Berning, Gregg Benzow (AP, AFP, Reuters, dpa)

Editor: Sean Sinico

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