French prosecutors have launched a probe into the cause of the Costa Concordia shipwreck. The cruise liner ran aground on January 13 and the half-sunken ship is posing an environmental threat.
Paris opened a preliminary investigation on Thursday into what caused the cruise ship Costa Concordia to run aground off Giglio Island on the Tuscan coast on January 13. The prosecutor's office said police would collect accounts from all surviving French passengers in order to determine the circumstances of the crash, the conditions of the evacuation and also the level of harm the passengers suffered.
The French justice ministry decided to group all French complaints together after meeting last week with representatives of a victims' association near the city of Bordeaux.
Of the 4,229 passengers onboard the Concordia when it became shipwrecked, 462 were from France. Four French nationals have been confirmed dead and two are still missing.
Lawsuits pile up
A number of lawsuits have been taken out since the accident. In Italy consumer rights' association Codacons said 70 passengers have joined a class action suit against the ship owner Costa Crociere.
In the US, lawsuits have been filed against Carnival Cruise Lines, which owns Concordia operator Costa Crociere.
A group of 19 Germans also filed criminal charges against the cruise ship's captain, Francesco Schettino on Wednesday "on suspicion of negligent bodily harm, abandonment, endangering shipping and failure to offer assistance to persons in danger," according to a lawyer for the group. A German prosecutor said the charges would be pressed under German law.
In Italy, a criminal investigation is under way, with the ship's captain facing charges of multiple accounts of manslaughter and abandoning ship before the evacuation.
Schettino is currently under house arrest.
Bad weather stalls recovery operations
Meanwhile, the capsized luxury liner is posing a threat to the environment, as a thin film of oil started seeping from the cruise ship on Wednesday. The ship contains about 500,000 gallons (2,400 tons) of heavy fuel and other pollutants and fears have grown that those chemicals could damage Europe's largest marine park.
Pumping operations had to be postponed yet again on Thursday due to high seas and strong wind.
Head of Italy's civil protection agency, Franco Gabrielli, said, contrary to previous statements, divers could continue their search for bodies after the pumping operations have started. Fifteen people are still missing, all of whom are believed to be dead. A total of 17 bodies have been pulled from the wreckage so far.
sb/ccp (Reuters, AFP, dpa)