Italy Urged to Curb Cruise Ship Routes After Accident

Pressure mounted on Italy to ban cruise ships from passing too close to its coastline more than a week after Carnival Corp.’s Costa Concordia capsized off Giglio Island, killing at least 16 people.

UNESCO, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, yesterday urged the Italian government to restrict large cruise ships’ access near “culturally and ecologically important areas.” Environment Minister Corrado Clini is working on new rules for routes along coastal areas and plans to meet cruise companies on Jan. 26.

Francesco Bandarin, UNESCO’s assistant director general for culture, sent a letter to Italy expressing “longstanding concern over the risk that large cruise liners pose to sites inscribed on UNESCO’s World Heritage List,” according to a statement late yesterday.

The Concordia struck rocks near Giglio on Jan. 13 after the captain, Francesco Schettino, deviated from the planned route and instead steered close to the island, hours after the vessel left a port near Rome for a Mediterranean cruise carrying about 4,200 passengers and crew. The government led by Prime Minister Mario Monti last week declared a state of emergency for the Giglio area, which lies within a sanctuary for marine mammals such as dolphins and whales.

Italy’s Democratic Party, which backs the government, wants to ban cruise ships from “prestigious areas” such as Venice, Capri and the Tuscan islands including Giglio, said Stella Bianchi, head of environmental issues for the party, in an e-mailed statement yesterday.

‘Light’ Oil Slick

Pumping oil out of the capsized ship will likely start on Jan. 28 after divers from Royal Boskalis Westminster NV’s Smit Salvage unit started preliminary work today, Civil Protection Agency Chief Franco Gabrielli said at a press conference on Giglio today.

A “light” oil slick has been identified near the island, though it doesn’t pose a threat to the environment, Gabrielli said. The goal is to initially remove oil from the first six tanks of the stranded vessel, he said. That’s where half of the of the ship’s 500,000 gallons of oil are located.

Search operations resumed today after divers used explosives to open a breach to the third deck, which is submerged about 20 meters (66 feet), Ennio Aquilino, a fire department official, said at the press conference. Divers found another body on the third deck today after discovering two bodies on the fourth deck yesterday. The number of missing people is 23, the agency said. Seven victims haven’t been identified yet.

Underwater Ledge

Gabrielli said yesterday that the vessel, lying on its side on an underwater ledge a few meters from Giglio, is “stable” and there’s no risk it may sink.

Pier Luigi Foschi, chairman of Carnival’s Costa Crociere SpA unit, has said Captain Schettino, who was suspended by the company Jan. 19, steered the ship close to Giglio to make a “salute.” Schettino is currently under house arrest.

The ship’s path on the day it hit rocks was similar to a route taken by the same vessel on Aug. 14, 2011, according to tracking data compiled by Bloomberg.

Costa Crociere’s Fortuna cruise ship struck rocks near Sorrento, Italy, on the first Friday in May of 2005, according to Roberto Cappello, who was working as an official photographer for the company at the time, the Independent reported. A Costa Crociere spokesman said the company isn’t aware of any accident on that date.

Passenger Photos

Since the Concordia accident, several Italian newspapers have published photos from passengers that appear to show some of the cruise line’s vessels sailing close to islands or picturesque bays such as Amalfi and the island of Procida.

Ron Starzman, managing director of Watershed Management Corp. in New York, said he was aboard Costa Crociere’s Deliziosa cruise ship in September 2010 when it came close to the island of Ponza, adjacent to Rome. “The ship rotated 180 degrees, sounded the horn several times and eventually pulled out, narrowly missing some shoals” by less than 100 meters, he said by e-mail.

Costa Crociere told Bloomberg News in a Jan. 22 e-mail 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. Foschi said Jan. 16 that the only time he was aware that one of his company’s ships had been allowed to sail close to Giglio was Aug. 9-10, 2011.

Costa Crociere today denied that it offered discounts on other cruises to Costa Concordia survivors, according to an e-mailed statement. The Genoa-based company offered passengers assistance to return home and plans to refund all expenses, including the cruise fare, it said. Costa is also discussing other damage claims with consumer associations.

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