Skip to main content

Underwater search of Italy cruise ship halted

By the CNN Wire Staff
February 2, 2012 -- Updated 1947 GMT (0347 HKT)
Salvage work on the stricken cruise ship Costa Concordia.
Salvage work on the stricken cruise ship Costa Concordia.
  • Gabrielli says the search of underwater portions of the ship is temporarily suspended
  • About half the cruise ship is under water, as it lies at an angle near shore
  • Salvage companies have been asked to present plans for the giant ship's removal
  • Costa Cruises says it is committed to protecting the island and its tourism industry

Rome (CNN) -- The search of underwater areas of the wrecked cruise ship Costa Concordia has been suspended for safety reasons, the head of Italy's civil protection agency said Thursday.

Franco Gabrielli, who is directing the salvage operation, made the announcement after meeting with technical experts.

The search of the parts of the ship currently lying underwater will "resume in later stages, once the operations of de-bunkering" -- removal of oil -- "and internal cleaning have created the conditions that can guarantee security," he said in a written statement.

Rescue workers have already inspected 98% of the portion of the ship resting above water, Gabrielli said, adding that the search there and in the waters extending 18 square kilometers (7 square miles) around the ship will continue.

A total of 15 people remain missing after the cruise ship's collision with rocks off Giglio Island on the coast of Tuscany on January 13. Seventeen bodies have been recovered. There were about 4,200 people on the cruise liner when it crashed.

Franco Schettino, captain of the Costa Concordia, said that after the ship hit the rocks, he ran it aground off Giglio Island to keep it from sinking and limit the tilting. It came to rest on its starboard, or right, side, with roughly 50% of the ship under water. It is currently rotated nearly 90 degrees.

Underwater operations have previously been temporarily suspended for safety reasons, but have always resumed.

Officials have been particularly concerned for divers who have been searching submerged areas of the ship amid a sea of debris that includes heavy items and wires.

Gabrielli also met with the people of Giglio on Thursday, amid worries over the lasting environmental effects of the disaster.

He told them planning for the removal of the ship from rocks has started, and that Costa Cruises, which ran the cruise, has given its commitment that it will work toward a plan that will cause the least environmental impact possible.

The siphoning off of fuel will resume as soon as the weather conditions allow it, Gabrielli said.

A final decision will be taken on a plan to remove the debris and waste water from the ship next week, the statement said.

Costa Cruises said in a statement that it was "working with the utmost commitment and speed on the plan to remove the ship itself, fully aware that this is a priority to protect the environment on Giglio and the island's tourism."

Costa is working with technical experts on the best way to deal with the enormous wreck, the statement said.

It has also invited 10 leading salvage companies around the world to put forward a plan to remove the hull of the Costa Concordia. The best one will be selected by the end of March, the company said.

Gabrielli said earlier this week that if the ship does not slip into deeper water, it will take at least seven to 10 months to remove the wreckage. And that process won't begin until after the fuel is removed, which could take 28 working days.

In the meantime, there will be no fishing, diving, snorkeling, or other normal use of the water near the wreckage, extending the disaster's economic toll.

Meanwhile, Schettino is under house arrest on suspicion of manslaughter, causing a shipwreck and abandoning ship while passengers were still on board.

He denies the charges, saying his actions saved lives.

Schettino has admitted to prosecutors, defense attorneys and a judge that he made a "mistake" in colliding with the rocks off shore. But he has brushed aside suggestions that he was going too fast, as prosecutors allege.

The lead prosecutor in the case is asking that Schettino be sent back to jail. A hearing has been scheduled for February 6.

Schettino's lawyer says he should be released from house arrest.

A number of survivors have filed lawsuits against Costa Cruises.

Costa has announced it was offering each of about 3,200 passengers who had been aboard the vessel a lump sum of 11,000 euros ($14,400), in compensation for their loss of property and emotional distress, as well as a refund of costs associated with the cruise.

Separate agreements will be reached with those passengers who were injured and needed treatment and with the families of those who died, Costa said.

CNN's Hada Messia contributed to this report.

Part of complete coverage on
Italy cruise ship disaster
January 19, 2012 -- Updated 1714 GMT (0114 HKT)
Thrust from obscurity to notoriety overnight, Capt. Francesco Schettino is the man at the center of the Costa Concordia cruise ship disaster.
January 18, 2012 -- Updated 2252 GMT (0652 HKT)
Chaos and a lack of communication plagued the evacuation, and getting to shore was only the beginning of a long ordeal.
January 18, 2012 -- Updated 1639 GMT (0039 HKT)
The shipwrecked Costa Concordia cruise liner can now be seen from space, lying on its side off the coast of the Italian island of Giglio.
January 19, 2012 -- Updated 0047 GMT (0847 HKT)
No matter how technologically advanced a cruise ship may be, passenger safety still depends on the captain's ability to make good decisions
January 16, 2012 -- Updated 2325 GMT (0725 HKT)
Meteorologist Alexandra Steele looks at the critical moments along the Costa Concordia's ill-fated route.
January 16, 2012 -- Updated 0030 GMT (0830 HKT)
At first, Vivian Shafer said, she thought it was part of the magic show aboard her Mediterranean cruise.
January 18, 2012 -- Updated 1111 GMT (1911 HKT)
CNN's Christine Romans looks at the logistics of hauling away the grounded cruise liner Costa Concordia, and what will happen to the ship next.
January 16, 2012 -- Updated 1213 GMT (2013 HKT)
CNN's John Vause explains how the Costa Concordia ended up running aground off the coast of Giglio Island, Italy.
January 16, 2012 -- Updated 1336 GMT (2136 HKT)
The disaster that wrecked a luxury cruise liner and has left maritime officials and experts on searching for answers -- fast.
Send CNN iReport your videos and photos. Please take care and do not put yourself or others in danger.
January 15, 2012 -- Updated 0212 GMT (1012 HKT)
CNN's Ralitsa Vassileva speaks with a passenger whose honeymoon was interrupted by the cruise ship disaster in Italy.
January 17, 2012 -- Updated 0832 GMT (1632 HKT)
Environmental campaign group Greenpeace has warned that if oil leaks from the stricken cruiser it could cause an environmental disaster.
January 16, 2012 -- Updated 1443 GMT (2243 HKT)
Dan Rivers reports on the capsizing of a cruise liner after it apparently hitting a reef close to Italy's coast.