Rescue squads used controlled explosions on Tuesday to enter a stricken Italian cruise liner in the increasingly despairing hunt for survivors as authorities almost doubled their estimate of the number missing to 29 people.
The Costa Concordia’s owners accused their captain of causing Friday’s disaster by veering the ship too close to shore, where it hit a rock, in a bravura “salute” to residents of a Tuscan island off Italy’s Mediterranean coast.
Captain Francesco Schettino was arrested on Saturday accused of manslaughter and abandoning the ship before all people were evacuated, and he was due to appear before magistrates for questioning on Tuesday morning.
Prosecutors say Schettino also refused to go back on board when requested by the coastguard.
The two explosions were carried out early on Tuesday morning to allow firefighters and scuba divers to enter parts of the ship that they had not yet been able to search.
The weather improved slightly from Monday but seas were still choppy.
The giant cruise liner slid a little on Monday, threatening to plunge 2,300 tonnes of fuel below the Mediterranean waters of the surrounding nature reserve.
The slippage forced rescuers to suspend efforts to find anyone still alive after three days in the capsized hull, resting on a jagged slope outside the picturesque harbor on the island of Giglio. Six bodies have been found. Most of the 4,200 passengers and crew survived, despite hours of chaos.
An Italian coastguard official told Reuters late on Monday that the number of people missing had been revised up to 29 – 25 passengers and four members of staff – from 16, showing how much uncertainty still surrounded the disaster.
Another maritime official said later that 10 Germans were thought to be among the missing passengers.
The 114,500-tonne ship, one of the biggest passenger vessels ever to be wrecked, foundered after striking a rock just as dinner was being served on Friday night. It quickly rolled on its side, revealing a long gouge below the waterline.
Firefighters’ spokesman Luca Cari said there were still small movements of the vessel but they were not considered dangerous. Searches were suspended overnight before resuming on Tuesday morning.
Another senior firefighter, Luciano Roncalli, told Reuters that all the unsubmerged areas of the liner had been searched, indicating there was faint hope of finding more survivors in the flooded and upturned maze of luxurious state rooms and tennis courts, bars and spas now submerged beneath the sea.
Environment Minister Corrado Clini said he would declare a state of emergency because of the risk that the ship’s fuel would leak into the pristine Tuscan Archipelago National Park. No fuel spillage has been detected so far, he said on Italian television on Monday evening.
Should rougher seas dislodge the wreck and cause it to sink or break up, that could scupper any hopes for the owners, a unit of Florida’s Carnival Corp., of salvaging a liner which cost hundreds of millions of dollars to build just six years ago.
Edited: By Celebrity Gossip