Divers searching Italy’s cruise ship wreck were Saturday clinging to hope that some people may have miraculously survived in air pockets a week after the tragedy which left 32 feared dead.
The Italian navy blew new holes into the side of the luxury liner to search previously unexplored parts of the beached vessel under the water line, where panicked people may have gathered when the order came to abandon ship.
“We would need a miracle. Even if there was an air pocket because the ship is tilted, in these conditions, with the freezing water, the chances of finding someone alive are now remote,” coast guard spokesman Cosimo Nicastro told AFP.
“But we will continue searching until all hope is gone,” he said as the loud booms of the navy’s micro explosives ricocheted across the tiny Giglio Island.
Despite a forecast for high waves in the Mediterranean which has sparked fears that the half-submerged 114,500-ton ship could sink completely, port officials said the sea was calm and would remain so “at least until sundown.”
The mother of missing five-year-old Dayana Arlotti, who had traveled to the island, had planned to leave flowers at the wreck Friday but said she could not go through with it while a glimmer of hope remained, the Corriere della Sera said.
“I cannot do it, I still have hope. It cannot be over,” Susy Albertini said, as other harrowed-looking relatives of the 21 people still missing took a boat out to the beached ship and threw yellow and white flowers into the sea.
“Bring Dayana home, continue to search for her. Don’t give up,” she said in an emotional plea to rescue workers, according to the Italian daily.
The liner crashed into rocks off Giglio on the night of January 13 with 4,229 people from 60 countries on board and began to keel over just as passengers were settling down for supper at the start of their cruise.
The Italian cabinet on Friday declared a state of emergency for the island, where there are fears that a potential spill from the ship’s tanks filled with 2,380 tons of fuel oil could cause an environmental disaster.
Franco Gabrielli, the head of Italy’s civil protection agency who has been charged with overseeing operations, arrived on the island Saturday morning.
The Tuscan archipelago where Giglio is located is Europe’s biggest marine sanctuary and a popular holiday spot with pristine sandy beaches.
Environment Ministry spokesman Jacopo Giliberto warned Friday that toxic liquids are likely to already be leaking into the sea around the wreck, including “highly carcinogenic oils,” the Repubblica newspaper reported.
Eleven people have been confirmed dead in the tragedy so far, including four French nationals, one Italian and a Spaniard among the passengers and two crew members ─ a Peruvian waiter and a Hungarian violinist.
Three of the bodies recovered have not yet been identified.
The ship’s captain, Francesco Schettino, is being investigated for multiple manslaughter, abandoning ship and causing a shipwreck, after he steered the boat too close to the island. He is under house arrest.
The head of the vessel’s owner, Costa Crociere, has said the company was warned too late of the scale of the disaster, though Schettino has disputed their account.
He fiercely denies abandoning ship, claiming he lost his footing and fell off as the vessel lurched onto its side. New audio recordings broadcast on Italian television Friday night suggested he intended to stay at the helm.
“I believe I’ll be the last one on board. Nearly everyone is off, we’re just checking. I think between 200 to 300 people still need to be evacuated,” Schettino was heard telling the coast guard in Livorno by telephone.
The captain has also denied Italian newspaper reports that he was joined on the bridge at one point by Domnica Cemortan, a 25-year-old Moldovan ballerina.
Fresh amateur video footage came to light Friday, one showing a crew member misleading dozens of frightened passengers wearing life jackets by saying there was no alarm and they should return to their cabins.
Dutch company Smit Salvage has said it is ready to pump out the ship’s fuel in what is known as a “hot-tapping” operation, but officials say that would require suspending the search on the vessel.
Experts say the Concordia is slipping off a rocky sea shelf at a rate of around one centimetrer (0.4 inches) every hour towards the open sea.
Earth sciences professor Nicola Casagli on the island said the ship was lying on two rocks ─ one under the bow and one under the stern.