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ROME — Italy’s cruise liner tragedy turned into an environmental crisis Monday, as rough seas battering the stricken mega-ship raised fears that fuel might leak into pristine waters off Tuscany that are part of a protected sanctuary for dolphins, porpoises and whales.
The ship’s jailed captain, meanwhile, lost the support of the vessel’s Italian owner as he battled prosecutors’ claims that he caused the deadly wreck that killed at least six and left 29 missing.
Earlier, authorities had said 16 people were missing. But an Italian Coast Guard official, Marco Brusco, said late Monday that 25 passengers and four crew members were unaccounted for three days after the disaster. He didn’t explain the jump, but indicated 10 of the missing are Germans. Two Americans are also among the missing.
At least three families of Italian passengers have said that despite their loved ones’ being listed among those safely evacuated, they hadn’t heard from them.
There still is “a glimmer of hope” that there could be survivors on parts of the vast Costa Concordia that not have been searched by rescuers, Brusco said. A search of the above-water portion of the ship last yielded a survivor, a crewman who had broken his leg, on Sunday.
Waters that had remained calm for the first three days of the rescue turned choppy Monday, shifting the wreckage of the Costa Concordia and temporarily suspending divers’ searches for survivors. A search for bodies was suspended overnight.
Italy’s environmental minister raised the alarm about a potential environmental catastrophe if any of the 500,000 gallons (2,300 tons) of fuel begins to leak into the waters off Giglio, which are popular with scuba divers and form part of the protected Tuscan archipelago.
“At the moment there haven’t been any fuel leaks, but we have to intervene quickly to avoid an environmental disaster,” Corrado Clini told RAI state radio.
Even before the accident there had been mounting calls from environmentalists to restrict passage of large ships in the area.
The ship’s operator, Costa Crociere SpA, has enlisted Smit of Rotterdam, Netherlands, one of the world’s biggest salvagers, to handle the removal of the 1,000-foot (290-meter) cruise liner. A study could come as early as Tuesday on how to extract the fuel safely.
Smit has a long track record of dealing with wrecks and leaks, including refloating grounded bulk carriers and securing drilling platforms in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. A spokesman for Smit did not immediately return calls seeking comment on the Concordia salvage.
The Italian cruise operator said Capt. Francesco Schettino intentionally strayed from the ship’s authorized course into waters too close to a perilous reef, causing it to crash late Friday off the tiny island of Giglio and capsize.
The navigational version of a “fly by” was apparently made as a favor to the chief waiter who is from Giglio and whose parents live on the island, local media reported.
A judge on Tuesday is to decide whether Schettino should remain jailed.
“We are struck by the unscrupulousness of the reckless maneuver that the commander of the Costa Concordia made near the island of Giglio,” prosecutor Francesco Verusio told reporters. “It was inexcusable.”
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