NEWS

1st Italian cruise ship victim identified

01/18/2012 05:23 EST | Updated 03/19/2012 05:12 EDT

A 38-year-old violinist from Hungary is the first victim identified in the grounding of the Costa Concordia cruise ship on a reef off the Italian coast.

An entertainer on the ship, Sandor Feher's body was found inside the wreck and identified by his mother, who travelled to Italy from Hungary.

Meanwhile, a German woman listed among the missing since the weekend has been located alive in Germany, leaving 21 unaccounted for and 11 dead, as search efforts were suspended Wednesday.

Gertrud Goergens identified herself to police, the Grosseto prefect's office said as Italian authorities released the names of the missing.

Search efforts were put on hold because the ship shifted slightly from its perch on rocks off the Tuscan island of Giglio.

The missing are from Italy, Germany, France, the United States, India and Peru.

The vessel shifted only a few centimetres, but it was enough to pose a threat to diving teams operating underwater in the half-sunken vessel. There was no immediate indication from officials when the search attempts might begin again.

Salvage set to begin

The salvage of the cruise ship was scheduled to begin later Wednesday, the CBC's Sasa Petricic tweeted from the scene. Officials were not optimistic about finding anyone alive, officials said, now that the whole ship has been searched.

Hours after divers and other workers suspended their efforts, Italian Prime Minister Mario Monti commented for the first time on the tragedy, saying it "could and should" have been avoided.

Monti said all precautions were being taken to prevent a fuel leak, and thanked the residents of Giglio, which has a wintertime population of about 900, for opening their doors to the 4,200 cruise ship passengers and crew who came ashore on Friday night.

Prosecutors have accused Capt. Francesco Schettino of manslaughter, causing a shipwreck and abandoning his vessel before all passengers were evacuated from it after the grounding off the Tuscan coast on Friday night.

An audio recording released Tuesday revealed that Schettino made excuses and resisted a coast guard officer's repeated orders for him to reboard his stricken liner and aid passengers.

As well, Schettino's employer, Costa Crociere, has blamed him for risking the lives of passengers and crew on the $450-million US ship.

Schettino had been jailed, but on Tuesday, a judge ordered him held under house arrest and Italian media reported he returned to his home near Naples.

Federal prosecutors are planning to challenge that decision.

Captain 'deeply shaken': lawyer

Schettino's lawyer, Bruno Leporatti, told a news conference in Grosetto on Wednesday that house arrest made sense given there was no evidence the captain intended to flee. He cited the fact that the captain co-ordinated the evacuation from the shore after leaving the ship.

"He never left the scene," Leporatti said. "There has never been a danger of flight."

Leporatti added the captain was upset by the accident, contrary to suggestions in the Italian media that he did not show regret.

"He is a deeply shaken man, not only for the loss of his ship, which for a captain is a grave thing, but above all for what happened and the loss of human life," the lawyer said.

Rescuers used small explosives Tuesday to blast through the maze of luxury cabins, bars and spas, fast losing hope of finding anyone alive inside the Costa Concordia, which lies semi-submerged on its side after being ripped open by rocks off the island of Giglio.

A Dutch maritime services company has said it was ready to start pumping fuel from the ship once search operations for missing people have ended and permission is granted by local authorities, reports say.

The ship hit a rock as dinner was being served on Friday. Reuters reported that the captain — later arrested — came too close to shore to "make a bow" to people on the island, who included a retired Italian admiral. Investigators have said the ship was less than 150 metres from shore.

Vessel sailed close to island before

Meanwhile, the BBC is reporting that satellite tracking information shows the Costa Concordia sailed closer to Giglio Island on a cruise last August than it did on its disastrous voyage on Friday.

The BBC quotes the shipping journal Lloyd's List Intelligence as saying the vessel passed within 230 metres of the island last Aug. 14 to mark La Notte di San Lorenzo — the night of the shooting stars festival on the island.

The route deviation on that occasion had apparently been authorized by Costa Cruises, BBC says.

The company said on Monday that the ship was never closer than 500 metres to the coast when it passed on Aug. 14.

Lloyd's List describes that occasion as a "near miss" and says the ship's route would have been less than 200 metres away from the point of collision on Friday's voyage, BBC says.

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