Costa Concordia may have had unregistered passengers

 

Unregistered passengers might have been aboard the stricken cruise liner that capsized off a Tuscan island, raising the possibility that the number of missing might be higher than previously announced.

Divers, meanwhile, pulled a woman's body from the capsized Costa Concordia yesterday, raising to 13 the number of people dead in the January 13 accident.

Civil protection official Francesca Maffini said the victim was wearing a life vest and was found in the rear of a submerged portion of a ship by a team of fire brigade divers.

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 yesterday, 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, said on the island of Giglio, where the ship, with 4,200 people aboard rammed a reef and sliced open its hull before turning over on its side.

Mr Gabrielli said relatives of a Hungarian woman told Italian authorities that she had telephoned them from aboard the ship and that they had not 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 one of Concordia's officers, who is recovering from a broken leg he sustained during the evacuation, dismissed the suggestion.

“Everyone is registered and photographed. Everything's electronic,” the Italian news agency ANSA quoted Manrico Giampedroni as saying.

Authorities are trying to identify five corpses which are badly decomposed after spending a long time in the water.

Mr Gabrielli said the other eight bodies: four French, an Italian, a Hungarian, a German and a Spanish national, had been identified .

The missing include French passengers, an elderly American couple, a Peruvian crew member and an Indian crewman and an Italian father and his five-year-old daughter.

Some of their relatives were briefed by rescuers yesterday and also met Pierluigi Foschi chief executive of Costa Crociere, the ship's operator, who viewed the crippled cruise liner from a boat.

France's ambassador to Italy, Alain Le Roy, recounting Mr Foschi's visit, said: “He came to see the families, all families. He met the French family. He met the American family. I am sure he is meeting other families, mostly to express his compassion ... to say that Costa will do everything possible to find the people, to compensate families in any way.”

The search had been halted for several hours yesterday, after instrument readings indicated that the Concordia had shifted 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.

When instrument data indicated the vessel had stabilised again, rescuers returned, but explored only the above-water section and evacuation staging areas where survivors indicated that people who did not make it into lifeboats during the chaotic evacuation could have remained.

Passengers were dining at a gala supper when the Concordia sailed close to Giglio and struck the reef, which is indicated on maritime and even tourist maps.

There are also fears that the Concordia's double-bottom fuel tanks could rupture in case of sudden shifting, spilling 2,200 tonnes of heavy fuel into pristine sea around Giglio, part of a seven-island archipelago in some of the Mediterranean's most pristine waters and a prized fishing area.

Giglio mayor Sergio Orpelli said it was tentatively planned to begin fuel-removal operations today, but that ultimately depended on when the rescue efforts were concluded.

The liner's Italian captain, Francesco Schettino, is under house arrest as prosecutors investigate him for suspected manslaughter, causing a shipwreck and abandoning the ship while many were still aboard.

Costa Crociere, a subsidiary of US-based Carnival Cruise Lines, has said Schettino had deviated without permission from the vessel's route in an apparent manoeuvre to sail close to the island and impress passengers.

Schettino, despite audiotapes of his defying coastguard orders to scramble back aboard, has denied he abandoned ship while hundreds of passengers were desperately trying to get off the capsizing vessel. He has said he co-ordinated the rescue from aboard a lifeboat and then from the shore.

AP

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