By Nicole Winfield And Colleen Barry Associated Press
ROME — Italian rescue workers suspended operations Wednesday after a stricken cruise ship shifted slightly on the rocks near the Tuscan coast, creating deep concerns about the safety of divers and firefighters searching for the 22 people still missing.
The $450 million Costa Concordia cruise ship was carrying more than 4,200 passengers and crew when it slammed into the reef Friday off the tiny Italian island of Giglio after the captain made an unauthorized maneuver.
The death toll stands at 11, and none of the dead have been identified so far. Italian authorities released the names of 24 passengers and 4 crew still missing, a list that includes six of the dead. The missing included 13 Germans, six Italians, four French, two Americans and one person each from Hungary, India and Peru.
Instruments attached to the ship detected the movements early Wednesday even though firefighters who spent the night searching the area above water for the missing could not detect any movement.
“As a precautionary measure, we stopped the operations this morning, in order to verify the data we retrieved from our detectors, and understand if there actually was a movement, and if there has been one, how big this was,” said Coast Guard Cmdr. Filippo Marini.
By late afternoon, officials still did not have enough data to reassure them that the ship had stopped resettling. The latest victims were discovered after navy divers exploded holes in the hull of the ship to allow easier access.
Premier Mario Monti offered his first comment on the disaster Wednesday, telling a press conference in London that it “could and should” have been avoided.
Monti also thanked the residents of Giglio, which has a wintertime population of about 900, for opening their doors to the 4,200 refugees who struggled ashore with nothing and were given clothes, food and shelter.
And he acknowledged concerns about the 500,000 gallons of fuel still aboard the ship.
“Everybody can be assured that the Italian authorities are both taking care of the prevention and limitation of any environmental negative implications of this accident, as well as in the first place providing all the necessary help to those affected.”
Passengers continued to make their way home, with consistent claims that crew members were ill-prepared to handle an emergency evacuation.
“The crew members had no specialized training — the security man doubled as the cook and bartender, so obviously they did not know what to do,” passenger Claudia Fehlandt told Chile’s Channel 7 television after being embraced by relatives at Santiago’s airport.
“In fact, the lifeboats, even the ones that did get lowered, they did not know how to lower them and they cut the ropes with axes,” she said.
In addition to the rescue, much of the focus has been on the cruise ship captain’s actions.
In a dramatic phone conversation released Tuesday, a coast guard official was heard ordering the captain, who had abandoned the ship with his first officers, back on board to oversee the evacuation. But Capt. Francesco Schettino resisted the order, saying it was too dark and the ship was tipping dangerously.
“You go on board! Is that clear? Do you hear me?” the Coast Guard officer shouted as the Schettino sat safe in a life raft and frantic passengers struggled to escape after the ship rammed into a reef off the Tuscan coast. “It is an order. Don’t make any more excuses. You have declared ‘Abandon ship.’ Now I am in charge.”
Jailed since the accident, Schettino appeared Tuesday before a judge in Grosseto, where he was questioned for three hours. The judge ordered him held under house arrest and Italian media reported he returned to his home near Naples.
Federal prosecutors are planning to challenge that decision.
Schettino’s lawyer, Bruno Leporatti, told a news conference in Grosetto that house arrest made sense given there was no evidence the captain intended to flee. He cited the fact that the captain coordinated the evacuation from the shore after leaving the ship.
“He never left the scene,” Leporatti said. “There has never been a danger of flight.”
Leporatti added the captain was upset by the accident, contrary to depictions in the Italian media that he did not appear to show regret.
“He is a deeply shaken man, not only for the loss of his ship, which for a captain is a grave thing, but above all for what happened and the loss of human life,” the lawyer said.
Criminal charges including manslaughter and abandoning ship are expected to be filed by prosecutors in coming days. Schettino faces a possible 12 years in prison if convicted of the abandoning ship charge alone.
Schettino has insisted that he stayed aboard until the ship was evacuated. However, the recording of his conversation with Italian Coast Guard Capt. Gregorio De Falco makes clear he fled before all passengers were off — and then defied De Falco’s repeated orders to go back.
“Listen Schettino,” De Falco can be heard shouting in the audio tape. “There are people trapped on board. … You go on board and then you will tell me how many people there are. Is that clear?”
But Schettino resisted, saying the ship was listing and he was with his second-in-command in the lifeboat. He finally agreed to reboard. But the coast guard has said he never went back, and police arrested him on land several hours later.
Barry reported from Milan.