Search Begins for Costa Concordia's Missing Bodies

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The search for two lost victims of the Costa Concordia cruise ship disaster began on Tuesday off the Tuscan island of Giglio, as divers scoured the area between the recently righted ship and the shoreline.

The Concordia had 4,229 people from 70 countries on board when captain Francesco Schettino allegedly drove it on an unauthorized route too close to shore, ripping a huge gash in the hull.

As the 114,000-ton ship tumbled onto its side on Jan. 13, 2012, it claimed 32 lives. Among them, two bodies — Italian passenger Maria Grazia Tricarichi and Indian crew member Russel Rebello — are still missing.

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The search comes after the Concordia was pulled upright last week in an unprecedented operation.

“The righting of the ship has now made it possible to access areas of the vessel and the seafloor which were previously off limits,” Italy’s civil protection said.

Back in vertical position, the Concordia will also allow new investigations on board.

Judges at the trial, in a converted theater in the town of Grosseto, accepted Tuesday the request of Schettino’s legal team to tour the wreck.

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Backed by consumer group Codacons, which is a civil party to the case, the inspection aims to look for evidence of possible technical faults, such as watertight doors not sealed properly, that may be related to the death of the 32 victims.

“Schettino is not the only one responsible,” said Daniele Bocciolini, a lawyer for several survivors.

“He’s not responsible for the lifeboats that couldn’t be launched nor for the emergency generators that failed,” he added.

On Monday, Schettino, who faces 20 years in prison if convicted of charges including manslaughter and abandoning ship, blamed his Indonesian helmsman for the crash.

He told the court that he ordered him to steer left as the Concordia sailed too close to Giglio’s rocky coastline, but the crewman reacted slowly and shifted to the right instead.

“If it weren’t for the helmsman’s delay and error … the collision wouldn’t have happened,” Schettino said.

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But a maritime expert, Italian Adm. Giuseppe Cavo Dragone, told the court that although the helmsman was 13 seconds late in executing the maneuver and had indeed made a mistake, the crash would have happened anyway.

The helmsman, Jacob Rusli Bin, is one of five Costa employees who was granted a plea deal. None of the five is likely to serve time behind bars.

Costa Cruises itself avoided a trial by agreeing to pay a 1 million euro ($1.35 million) fine.

A Florence court is now considering the validity of those plea bargain deals.

“After the righting of the ship, now the trial is getting righter,” Bocciolini said.

The hearing will continue for the rest of the week.

Image: Searching for the two missing bodies by the Concordia’s most damaged side. Credit: Rossella Lorenzi