Concordia Death Toll Rises to 15 as Focus Shifts to Removing Ship’s Fuel

Italian search teams found two more bodies on Carnival Corp. (CCL)’s Costa Concordia cruise ship, raising the death toll to 15, and operations to remove 500,000 gallons of fuel from the damaged vessel may start as early as tomorrow.

Two female bodies were discovered today after divers set off more explosives onboard the ship, Civil Protection Agency Chief Franco Gabrielli said at a press conference on Giglio Island today. The number of missing people is 24, the agency said. Seven of the victims haven’t been identified yet.

The Concordia might have been carrying some unregistered passengers, Gabrielli said, making it difficult to determine the number of missing people. Costa Crociere SpA, a unit of Miami- based Carnival, denied in a statement that there might have been illegal workers aboard and said that all passengers were registered.

The vessel hit rocks on Jan. 13 near Giglio, hours after leaving a port close to Rome with 4,200 passengers and crew for a Mediterranean cruise. Costa Crociere has suspended Captain Francesco Schettino, who was placed under house arrest on Jan. 17 for allegedly causing the shipwreck.

Removing Oil

Gabrielli said today that the partly-submerged vessel, which is lying on its side on an underwater ledge a few meters from Giglio, is “stable” and there’s no risk it may sink. Gabrielli said he authorized oil-removal operations, while the search for missing people will continue.

That procedure can start as early as tomorrow, Bart Huizing of Royal Boskalis Westminster NV’s Smit Salvage unit, said at the press conference today. The fist oil tank has already been identified, Coast Guard Admiral Ilarione Dell’Anna said at the press conference. Removing the fuel may take about 28 working days, he said.

There is no evidence of leaking oil or signs that other pollutants from the ship were contaminating the waters off Giglio, the Civil Protection Agency said. Levels that “aren’t worrying” of detergents and disinfectants have been found, it said in a statement yesterday.

‘Already Contamination”

“It’s a fact that there is already contamination,” Environment Minister Corrado Clini told reporters in Milan today. “We’re trying to make sure there’s no oil leak, which would have a very negative impact on the environment.”

Giglio lies within the Santuario dei Cetacei, an area of roughly 87,500 square kilometers that in 1999 was declared a sanctuary for marine mammals such as dolphins and whales.

A barge will be placed next to the Concordia at dawn tomorrow and oil pumping will probably start the following day, Corrado Neri of the Neri Group, which works with Smit, said at the press conference today.

Costa Crociere Chairman Pier Luigi Foschi said Jan. 16 that the captain steered the ship close to Giglio to make a “salute” to islanders. Costa Crociere told Bloomberg News in an e-mail yesterday that while a “touristic navigation” five miles from the coast was planned for the Concordia on its Jan. 13 cruise, it was up to the captain to ensure the safety of the route.

Emergency Maneuver

The company was responding to a report in newspapers including la Repubblica that Captain Schettino told prosecutors the company asked for the salute to Giglio. The captain is also accused of manslaughter and abandoning the ship.

Schettino didn’t abandon the ship, his lawyer Bruno Leporatti has said, and his actions saved many lives, according to a Jan. 16 statement from the attorney. The captain said he made an emergency maneuver after hitting the rocks to prevent the ship from heading out to sea and sinking, according to the judge’s written decision.

The captain’s statements to prosecutors that he informed Costa Crociere’s staff of the emergency might widen the probe to other people, Leporatti said today in an e-mailed statement. The prosecutor has requested to obtain data from the ship’s Voyager Data Recorder as evidence, according to the lawyer.

Clini said today that he plans to meet on Jan. 26 with cruise ship operators to discuss a ban on liners navigating within a certain distance from coastlines to prevent accidents.

To contact the reporter on this story: Marco Bertacche in Milan at mbertacche@bloomberg.net.

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Jerrold Colten at jcolten@bloomberg.net

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