The bodies of the two last missing victims of the Costa Concordia cruise ship disaster may have been found, according to reports in the Italian media.
The news comes exactly one year after the huge liner — more than twice as big as the Titanic — ran aground off the Tuscan coast of Giglio, Italy.
The Concordia struck a rock and capsized on Jan. 13 near the island of Giglio after captain Francesco Schettino allegedly drove the ship on an unauthorized route too close to shore, ripping a huge gash in the hull. The ship tumbled onto its side with more than 4,200 people aboard and 32 lives were lost.
Among them, Sicilian passenger Maria Grazia Trecarichi and Indian crew member Russel Rebello are still unaccounted for and presumed dead.
“Not being able to give back these bodies to their families is now the biggest tragedy,” Franco Gabrielli, the head of Italy’s civil protection agency, said at a poignant day-long commemoration at Giglio on Sunday.
But according to reports in the Italian media, the bodies were known to be located in the most unreachable area of the wreck near the stern.
“I was told four months ago that my brother’s body had been found, but recovery is impossible until the rotating of the ship,” Kevin Rebello, Russel’s brother, told the daily Il Tirreno.
Engineer and fire brigade chief Ennio Aquilino confirmed that the two victims are most likely trapped near the stern, where the ship collapsed.
“That’s our guess. We won’t be able to reach the bodies until we move the ship,” he told the daily La Nazione.
But the companies undertaking the refloating and removal of the Concordia — American Titan Salvage and Italian firm Micoperi — denied that the missing bodies had been located in the wreck.
Meanwhile, Gabrielli told reporters that plans for what is considered the largest re-float in history were behind schedule.
He announced that the 950-foot-long, 116-foot-wide, 114,500-ton carcass of the Costa Concordia will be refloated and towed from Giglio’s waters no earlier than September.
Originally, officials said they hoped to tow the ship away and break it up by early 2013.
The cost of the operation has also risen from the $400 million originally estimated to $530 million.
Prosecutors are seeking a 20-year prison sentence for Captain Francesco Schettino. He is facing accusations of manslaughter, causing a shipwreck and abandoning ship. Prosecutors say he caused the disaster by sailing too close to shore and trying to maneuver the ship “as if it were a canoe.”
Image: Rossella Lorenzi