By 15.01.2012 17:02:14
By Nick Rigillo
Rome (dpa) – The confirmed number of deaths in the sinking of a cruise liner off the coast of Italy rose to five on Sunday with the discovery of two more bodies in the flooded stern of the Costa Concordia.
According to the Ansa news agency, the bodies of two elderly men were found by scuba divers in a cabin. Both were wearing life jackets.
The gruesome discovery came just hours after firefighters rescued a third survivor, officer Marrico Giampetroni, who was suffering from leg injuries but was not in a life-threatening condition.
Firefighters located him after hearing noises coming from a partially flooded area of the ship. He was then hoisted onto a helicopter.
“I always hoped I would be saved. I lived through a 36-hour nightmare,” Giampetroni told reporters at the scene.
A honeymooning South Korean couple, identified as Hye Jim Jeong and Kideok Han, was brought to safety overnight, while 15 people – nine passengers and six crew members – remain unaccounted for, nearly two days after the sinking of the Costa Concordia off Italy’s western coast.
Efforts to reach survivors were hampered by blocked doors and staircases, and scattered furniture inside the 290-metre ship, which is half-submerged and listing 80 degrees with a crack in its hull.
“We still hope to find someone alive,” Coast Guard commander Cosimo Nicastro told Tgcom24.
Meanwhile, two Japanese tourists who had been listed among the missing were traced in Rome earlier Sunday after they left the scene of the accident without first informing the authorities.
The other confirmed victims are two French passengers and a Peruvian crew member. The three men are thought to have drowned after the ship hit a rock and then ran aground late Friday near Giglio, a small island off the coast of Tuscany.
The ship’s captain, Francesco Schettino, was taken into custody on Saturday after being questioned by investigators trying to determine the cause of the accident. He faces possible charges of multiple manslaughter and of causing a disaster.
There are growing suspicions that Schettino may have steered the vessel close to Giglio to salute tourists gathered on its port. Similar manoeuvres have taken place several times before, according to witnesses.
“Many ships pass by Giglio to salute the island’s inhabitants with a whistle. It is a beautiful spectacle to watch the illuminated ship from land … This time things went badly,” daily La Repubblica quoted Giglio Mayor Sergio Ortelli as saying.
Officials say cruise liners normally sail about 2-3 nautical miles away from Giglio.
According to prosecutor Francesco Verusio, the fact that the ship had moved so close to the island meant that hitting rocks was “inevitable.”
Italian Defence Minister Giampaolo di Paola, who is himself an admiral, said: “It is obvious that a serious human error was made, and such errors at times unfortunately happen. In this case it had dramatic consequences.
“Ships of such sizes cannot sail so close to the coast,” said di Paola.
Verusio also noted that captain Schettino was “certainly not the last to leave the ship.”
Meanwhile, the ship’s “black box” had been recovered and was expected to shed light on the vessel’s final movements, while there was growing concern about a possible oil spill, with the ship carrying an estimated 2,380 tons of diesel fuel.
Its Genoa-based owner said 3,216 passengers and 1,013 crew members were on board at the time of the accident.
Dramatic accounts of panic aboard the sinking ship have since emerged.
“A shudder went through the ship,” German passenger Peter Honvehlmann told dpa. “Within no time, the ship started listing, so that vases fell from the tables, everything fell from the bar … some people tripped down the stairs.”
“Seriously, it was similar to the film Titanic, you wouldn’t believe it.”
While most people were moving towards the upper side of the ship, Honvehlmann and his wife moved to the sinking side, where they realized the lifeboats would be closer to the water.
Within a few minutes their lifeboat was taken to safety in the nearby harbour.
“That was the first cruise in my life and certainly also the last,” Honvehlmann said.