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Cruise ship’s captain held for questions

Navigation errors suspected in sinking

ANDREAS SOLARO/AFP/Getty Images

The Costa Concordia cruise ship ran aground in the harbor of the Tuscan island of Giglio.

GIGLIO, Italy - As rescue workers extracted three survivors and two more bodies from the hull of a sunken cruise ship off the coast of Italy yesterday, authorities focused attention on the ship’s captain, who the ship’s owner said may have been responsible for the grounding that sank the ship and killed at least five people.

The captain of the Costa Cruises liner, Francesco Schettino, 52, of Naples, was detained for questioning by the Italian police on charges of manslaughter, failure to offer assistance, and abandonment of the ship.

Yesterday, Costa Cruises issued a statement saying “there may have been significant human error’’ by Schettino that caused the ship to ground on a rocky outcropping near this resort island on Friday.

“The route of the vessel appears to have been too close to the shore, and in handling the emergency, the captain appears not to have followed standard Costa procedures,’’ the statement said.

The statement appeared to diverge from declarations the company made Saturday insisting that the ship, the Costa Concordia, had followed the normal course it follows “52 times a year,’’ and commending Schettino, saying he “immediately understood the severity of the situation’’ and began preparing to evacuate the vessel.

Accounts of survivors and witnesses had raised questions about whether the ship had veered off course and suggested the crew was ill-prepared to manage an emergency.

With 15 of the ship’s 4,200 passengers still listed as missing - including two Americans - rescue workers scoured the waterlogged luxury liner yesterday for survivors and found three, including a couple on their honeymoon.

The couple, from Korea, were found inside a cabin of the ship, said Luca Cari, a spokesman for the Italian fire brigade that rescued them.

Later, firefighters rescued the ship’s purser by helicopter, hoisting him from the ship strapped to a stretcher. The purser, Manrico Giampedroni, 57, from the northwestern Italian region of Liguria, had a broken leg.

About 70 people were injured when the ship capsized, just as a late-seating dinner had begun Friday night.

Divers searching submerged cabins found the bodies of two elderly men, one from Spain and one from Italy, both wearing life jackets, said Commander Cosimo Nicastro, a coast guard spokesman. The deaths brought the number of people confirmed dead to five.

The bodies of three other victims - two French passengers and a Peruvian crewman - were pulled out of the sea in the hours after the accident.

Among the people still missing, Nicastro said, were nine passengers and six crew members. The US State Department said yesterday that 120 Americans had been on board and all but two had been accounted for.

Throughout the day, members of the Italian fire brigades in small craft circled the massive ship, which lay on its side like a beached whale, with a wide gash just below the waterline and a rock jutting through its hull. The firefighters tapped the hull and listened for any responses from people trapped inside.

Rescuers were focusing their efforts on the part of the ship still above water. “The likelihood that we can find somebody alive in the underwater cabins is very low, so we are aiming at the ones possibly trapped above water,’’ Cari said.

His crews had searched only a quarter of that area, parts of which are blocked by debris. He said the sunken portion of the ship would be inspected through the porthole windows during the night by divers with flashlights.

Working in murky water, the divers were trying to tie down floating debris, which can pose risks for them.

On the tiny island of Giglio, some residents had tended to survivors through the night Friday, offering hot tea and dry clothes. At Mass yesterday morning at the Giglio Porto church, a priest placed a life jacket, a rope, and a rescue helmet on the altar to honor the dead and missing.

“Giglio will no longer be the same,’’ said Don Lorenzo, the priest. “Let’s us all pray together now for our souls.’’

Island residents, many of whom are sailors, said the liner had tried to thread a narrow passage between the rocks that was too small for the 114,500-ton ship.

“We used to get kind of close to the shore to show off its beauty, to entertain passengers,’’ said Demetrio Mattera, 75, a former cruise ship sailor here. “But never so close.’’

The ship was 150 yards from shore at the time of the grounding, Italian news agency ANSA quoted Grosseto prosecutor Francesco Verusio as saying.

Schettino, the captain, said he was twice as far out and the ship ran aground because the rocks weren’t marked on his nautical charts, the Associated Press reported. However, he conceded he was maneuvering the ship in “touristic navigation’’ - implying a route that was a deviation from the norm and designed to entertain the tourists.

“We were navigating approximately 300 meters from the rocks,’’ Schettino told Mediaset television. “There shouldn’t have been such a rock. On the nautical chart it indicated that there was water deep below.’’

Costa captains have occasionally steered their ships near port and sounded the siren in a special salute, Giglio residents said. Such a nautical “fly-by’’ was staged last August, prompting the town’s mayor to send a note of thanks to the commander for the treat it provided tourists who flock to the island, local news portal GiglioNews.it reported.

But residents said even on those occasions, the cruise ships always stayed far offshore, well beyond the reach of the reefs.

Coast Guard Commander Filippo Marini said divers had recovered the “black box,’’ with the recording of the navigational details. No details were released.

Material from the Associated Press was included in this report.

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