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Death Toll, Environmental Worries Mount in Wake of Italian Cruise Disaster

January 16, 2012 at 12:00 AM EDT

RAY SUAREZ: Search teams in Italy struggled against rough seas today, as they looked for survivors and bodies on a capsized cruise ship. Two Americans were among the missing.

The huge vessel ran aground and tipped over Friday off Tuscany in the north of Italy. At least six people died. Another concern also emerged as oil began leaking from the ship.

We begin with a report narrated by Alex Thomson of Independent Television News.

ALEX THOMSON: Protective booms to contain oil floated around the wreck today as a human accident now threatens to become an environmental problem.

Just three hours into the cruise, Costa Concordia would have been loaded with all manners of chemicals, to say nothing of tons of heavy oil bunker fuel for the voyage. Airlifting rescue teams from the hull today, their search for missing crew and passengers aborted for several hours amid worsening sea conditions, the stricken 114,000-ton ship shifting in the swell on the notorious Giglio reef making the search impossible.

GIUSEPPE MINCIOTTI, rescue worker (through translator): It is not an easy mission on such a big and complex ship. Lots of objects are moving in there now, furniture, beds, cupboards. It will be dangerous, and we have to be very careful.

ALEX THOMSON: Four thousand two hundred people got out alive, like British passenger Rose Metcalf, a dancer on the ship, arriving at Heathrow Airport today.

ROSE METCALF, crew member: The thing about when you’re considering whether you’re going to survive or not is, you’re worrying that other people are worrying about you. And that’s the worst thing.

ALEX THOMSON: On land, extraordinary developments, the cruise line bosses blaming their own captain for the wreck, without waiting for any investigation.

PIER LUIGI FOSCHI, Costa Cruises: We believe it has been a human error here. The captain did not follow the authorized route which is used by Costa ships very frequently.

ALEX THOMSON: Yet, navigation decisions are never taken alone. The bridge is a joint operation. And this ship, this company made a very public tradition of steering close to this reef.

June 2011, foghorns blaring, superstructure lit, here she is close to the rocks. Passengers and sightseers loved it. Local fishermen publicly complained even then she was coming too close, far too close.

Shipping sources told Channel 4 News it is tacitly accepted that few giant cruise ships can meet the legal safety requirement to abandon ship within 30 minutes of the order.

MAN: Please remain calm. The situation is under control.

ALEX THOMSON: Passenger video emerged today inside a lifeboat. They discuss what’s just happened.

MAN (through translator): We hit a rock.

MAN (through translator): That can’t be true. We hit really hard.

MAN (through translator): It hit against some rocks, but it didn’t shake. It went “brrr” and then it stopped.

MAN (through translator): That’s true.

MAN (through translator): I’m sorry, but these people always do the same route. They should know that the bottom is shallow here. It’s impossible that they didn’t know.

ALEX THOMSON: Captain Francesco Schettino remains in police custody, suspected of manslaughter. He denies abandoning the ship, an offense which also carries a prison sentence.