Worsening weather threatens rescue efforts on stricken ship

Worsening weather threatens rescue efforts on stricken ship

Rescue operations at the sunken Costa Concordia cruise liner were suspended on Wednesday, but Italian officials still hoped to resume them as soon as possible, amid concerns that worsening weather conditions might further disrupt increasingly desperate attempts to find survivors, dpa reported.

"All is being put into place (to resume the search)," Italian coast guard spokesman Filippo Marini told dpa on the island of Giglio, close to the site where the vessel has been lying on its side in shallow waters since it ran aground on Jan 13.

Meteorologists have forecast strong winds for Thursday, which could push waves up by two metres, possibly causing the Costa Concordia to shift its position and sink further.

A small shift registered on Wednesday prompted officials to call off the search for most of the day.

So far, slightly more than 20 of the 4,229 people on board at the time of the accident have yet to be accounted for, Italian officials said. The certified death toll stands at 11.

Germany says 12 of its nationals are still missing.

Meanwhile, there is also growing concern about the devastating impact on the Mediterranean environment that a possible spillage of the 2,300 tons of fuel in the Concordia's tanks might have.

Italian Prime Minister Mario Monti, speaking during a visit to London, said "everybody can be assured that the Italian authorities are taking care of the prevention and limitation of any environmental negative implications of this accident."

Monti also said that while he could not preempt the official investigation into the accident, it was clear that "any such disaster could and should be avoided."

The Concordia's captain, Francesco Schettino, was being held under house arrest in his hometown of Meta di Sorrento, near Naples.

The magistrate who ordered his detention said she did so because there exists the risk that he may repeat his "criminal conduct," media reported Wednesday.

Magistrate Valeria Montesarchio explained her decision in a document submitted in Grosseto - where an investigation into the shipwreck disaster is taking place.

Montesarchio wrote that "the measures of house arrest are fully suitable to avoid ... a repetition of criminal conduct" by captain Francesco Schettino, the ANSA news agency reported, citing the document.

She did not specify what that "criminal conduct" might be.

The magistrate also noted how Schettino had shown "a complete incompetence in handling the emergency, thus delaying rescue attempts from the mainland" after the Costa Concordia ran aground off Italy's western coast.

Prosecutors, who had wanted Schettino to be held in jail, said they would appeal against the magistrate's decision. They want the 52-year-old skipper to be indicted on charges of multiple manslaughter and of abandoning the ship.

Schettino has admitted to Italian prosecutors he was at fault in steering the vessel off course and running it aground.

But he denies that he willingly abandoned the vessel while many of its passengers were still aboard.

"The route officer had told me: 'Watch out for the rocks', but I had done (the route) at least three or four times. I felt safe," Schettino told prosecutors, according to the Turin-based daily La Stampa.

"There was a point when I should have veered to the right to avoid the rocks, but I did not have the time to do so. We got too close and when the ship began veering it hit the rock, with its left side receiving a strong bump," Schettino reportedly said.

He has also been accused of abandoning the ship before ensuring that all passengers had been evacuated.

That allegation was further reinforced after the leak of a radio conversation between Schettino and a coast guard official who is heard ordering Schettino back on board the Costa Concordia on the night of the accident.

"It's not true that I fled. I accidentally fell off the ship on the roof of one of the lifeboats and I was not able to climb back on (the ship) because the lifeboat was blocked, left suspended," Schettino was quoted as saying to prosecutors by La Stampa.

"I then remained on the rock on Giglio," Schettino said, adding "I coordinated the landing (of the passengers). Had I wanted to flee I would have done it."

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