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More Bodies Discovered Aboard Capsized Cruise Ship

January 17, 2012 at 12:00 AM EDT
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JUDY WOODRUFF: Search teams in Italy found more bodies today on a partially submerged cruise liner. At least two dozen people were still missing. In all, some 4,200 passengers and crew were on board when the ship hit a reef Friday night, then listed to one side and settled in the water.

We have a report on the day’s developments from Martin Geissler of Independent Television News.

MARTIN GEISSLER: The time for being delicate has passed. The Italian navy blasted their way on to the Costa Concordia today, the direct route to the parts of the vessel they know they need to reach.

Divers were heading for the first officer’s cabin 30 feet down, where it is thought several of those missing may be. With every passing hour, the urgency increases. Locked magnetic doors are blocking their way.

LUCIANO RONCALLI, rescue coordinator: We will inspect them with search cameras through small hole and with a search camera, a search-and-rescue camera.

MARTIN GEISSLER: Today, the divers recovered more bodies aboard the Concordia, four men and one woman, all thought to be in their 50s and 60s.

These new pictures show the chaos that unfolded here on Friday night. Filmed in infrared, we see passengers balancing on the side of the ship, forming a chain and clambering to go the lifeboats. Just imagine what it must have been like for them in the dark and the cold and the panic.

And where was the captain when all this was happening? A phone conversation recorded by the port authority would suggest he was already ashore.

MAN (through translator): Tell me if there are children, women and what help they need. And tell me the number of each of these categories. Is that clear? Look, Schettino, perhaps you have saved yourself from the sea, but I will make you look very bad.

MAN (through translator): Tell me the reason why you’re not going.

MAN (through translator): I’m not going because there is another lifeboat which has stopped.

MAN (through translator): You get on board. That’s an order. You need to continue the rescue. You ordered an evacuation. Now I am in charge. You need to get on board the ship. Is that clear? There are already bodies, Schettino. Move.

MAN (through translator): How many dead are there?

MAN (through translator): I don’t know, one that I’m aware of, one that I have heard of. You need to tell me this. Christ!

MAN (through translator): But you do realize it is dark and we can’t see anything.

MAN (through translator): And what? Do you want to go back home, Schettino? It is dark and you want to go back home? Get on the bow of the ship. Tell me what can be done, how many people there are and what they need — now.

MARTIN GEISSLER: Today, Captain Francesco Schettino appeared before a preliminary judge, who will decide if and when he will be arrested and on what charge.

Up close, you get a real sense of the size of this vessel and the scale of the problem. The mess above deck is nothing compared to the chaos beneath the waterline. But at least after a day of waiting, the search is back under way.

The past 24 hours have been a massive setback for the rescue teams, but the forecast from here is good. Nature, it seems, has come back on side. The chances of finding survivors now are extremely slim. But as someone at the center of the operation put it, hope is the last thing to die.

The authorities are already discussing what will become of the Costa Concordia. For now, this tiny tourist island has a monstrous new landmark, unwelcome, but unmissable and unmovable for months at least.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Late today, a defense lawyer said the cruise ship captain will be released from jail and placed under house arrest, pending any formal charges.