Cruise Ship Threatens Environment

The vast wreck of the cruise ship Costa Concordia shifted on the undersea ledge supporting it on Friday, forcing a new suspension in rescue work and threatening plans to pump oil out of the vessel to prevent a possible environmental disaster.

Firefighters’ spokesman Luca Cari said the rescue squads would be discussing the next step after the movement made conditions unsafe for the divers already hampered by poor visibility, floating objects and underwater debris.

Seven days after the 114,500 tonne ship capsized off the Tuscan coast, hopes of finding anyone alive have all but disappeared and the cold waters around the ship have become rougher with worse weather expected at the weekend.

Attention is now turning to how to remove more than 2,300 tonnes of fuel aboard the vessel, which lies on its side on a rock shelf in about 20 metres of water off the little island of Giglio and which could slide off its resting place.

Salvage crews are unable to begin pumping fuel out of the wreck – a process that will take at least two weeks – until the search for survivors and bodies is called off.

Environment minister Corrado Clini told parliament on Thursday that he had instructed the liner’s operator, Costa Cruises, to take all possible measures to anchor the ship to prevent it from slipping further into the sea.

“If the ship slides, we hope that it doesn’t break into pieces and that the fuel tanks do not open up,” he said.

Mr Clini said there was a risk that the ship could sink to 50 to 90 metres below the rock ledge on which it is caught, creating a major hazard to the environment in one of Europe’s largest natural marine parks.

Eleven people are known to have died out of more than 4,200 passengers and crew aboard when the ship struck a rock just metres from the shoreline, tearing a large gash in the side of the hull.

As many as 24 people are still unaccounted for, although that number probably includes bodies found but not yet identified.