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Ship begins leaking slick substance; 16th victim found

Others besides captain may face charges

FILIPPO MONTEFORTE/AFP/GETTY IMAGES

Absorbent booms around the hull of the Costa Concordia were trapping the “thin film.’’

GIGLIO, Italy - Salvage and rescue workers reported the first sign of a significant contaminant slick beginning to ooze from the partly submerged Costa Concordia yesterday as divers recovered the body of the 16th victim from the Jan. 13 shipwreck.

Samples of the slick, described as a “very thin film’’ by officials and residents of this Tuscan coastal island, were being analyzed, said Admiral Ilarione Dell’Anna. The precise origin of the slick was unclear, but Italian officials said absorbent booms placed around the 950-foot-long hull and beyond were trapping it.

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Smit, a Dutch salvage company, has been hired to extract the ship’s half million gallons of fuel, which has become a pressing priority to avoid an environmental disaster from the shipwreck.

The US ambassador to Italy, David Thorne, visited the island yesterday, telling reporters he had come to support the family of the US couple among the 22 passengers still missing, Barbara and Gerald Heil.

The 16th recovered victim, described as an elderly woman still clad in a life vest, was extracted from the ship as divers blasted new holes in the hull to search for trapped bodies.

The search and salvage developments came as Italian prosecutors raised the possibility that others besides the ship’s captain, Francesco Schettino, may be criminally charged.

“The terrible confusion aboard reveals an incredible carelessness when applying security norms,’’ said Beniamino Deidda, Tuscany’s chief prosecutor. “Not all the security deficiencies can be blamed on the conduct of the captain. For this reason, the investigation can not exclude any front.’’

On Monday, Schettino’s lawyer rebutted accusations by Costa Cruises, the stricken ship’s operator, that the captain had made an authorized detour on the night of the wreck and ventured too close to Giglio. His lawyer argued that Schettino, 51, was in constant touch with the company’s command center.

Costa Cruises, a subsidiary of Carnival Corp., the world’s largest cruise line company, has sought to isolate Schettino as the primary culprit for crashing the $538 million vessel, which was carrying more than 4,200 passengers and crew. He is under investigation on charges of manslaughter, abandoning ship, and causing a shipwreck.

Currently under house arrest at his home near Naples, Schettino has not talked to the media. But his wife, Fabiola Russo, responded for the first time to the torrent of blame placed on him, much of it by the Italian media.

“My husband is not a monster,’’ she told Oggi, an Italian magazine. “This is a witch hunt, a hunt for the guilty.’’

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