Hope of finding survivors on the half-submerged Costa Concordia waned Monday after rescuers found a sixth victim, three days after the giant luxury liner ran aground off the Italian coast in an accident that increasingly appeared to have been avoidable.
Both judicial and media attention was concentrated Monday on ascertaining what led to the tragedy that one prosecutor said was due to an “inexcusable” maneuver by the ship’s captain, who remained in custody.
The sixth victim was a still-unidentified male passenger who was found on the second bridge of the ship wearing a life jacket.
Officials late Monday reportedly said 25 passengers and four crew members remained missing.
Search efforts were suspended for a time Monday as weather conditions worsened and the ship’s position shifted slightly. They were later resumed, only to be suspended again at nightfall.
In the late afternoon, an oily substance began to leak from the ship, news reports said.
Environmental Minister Corrado Clini said earlier that the risk of fuel leakage and subsequent ecological disaster for the Tuscan island of Giglio was “very high” and that recovery of the 2,300 tons of fuel should start as soon as possible.
Witness accounts from passengers, crew, coast guard officials and port authorities served to bring into focus the probable cause of Friday night’s maritime disaster: The ship was steered close to shore so that island residents and passengers could salute each other.
Pier Luigi Foschi, chairman and chief executive of Costa Crociere, owner of the vessel, said at a news conference Monday that the captain, Francesco Schettino, 52, had “made a maneuver that was not approved, causing an accident by steering the boat away from the established route.”
The maneuver, Foschi said, “was taken of his own initiative,” and Schettino had engaged in “behavior that is against our written rules.” He added, “We cannot, unfortunately, deny a human error.”
Foschi said that both personally and on behalf of the company, “we are very sorry for the tragic accident that has happened.”
He denied that Costa cruise ships participated in the practice of steering close to the island to salute residents.
Schettino, who has worked with Costa since 2002, was being held on charges of multiple manslaughter, causing a shipwreck and abandoning ship. Chief prosecutor Francesco Verusio told reporters that Schettino left the ship before passengers were safely evacuated and that he was arrested because of concerns that he could tamper with evidence.
Verusio said investigators had interviewed about 100 witnesses and that he was surprised by “the recklessness of the maneuver made by the captain, which was something really inexcusable.”
The U.S. Embassy in Rome said two of the missing were Americans. Though their identities were not immediately released, Associated Press cited family members as saying they were Jerry Heil, 69, and his wife, Barbara, 70, of Bear Lake, Minn.
Special units from fire departments and the coast guard, including scuba divers and sniffer dogs, aided in the search.
Filippo Marini, a fire department spokesman, told Italian television: “The more time passes, the more difficult it is that we find someone alive on board, but we always hope and we are still in a phase where we could find someone still alive.”
Manrico Giampedroni, the Costa Concordia officer who was rescued Sunday after reportedly helping some passengers to safety, was in good condition in a nearby hospital. Interviewed by Italian television, he said: “I couldn’t count how many people I helped.” He later became trapped after falling and was stuck in the ship for 36 hours.
Delaney is a special correspondent.