Costa Concordia sinking: Oil leaking into sea from stranded cruise liner

OIL was detected leaking into the sea from the capsized cruise ship Costa Concordia yesterday amid fears the stricken vessel is starting to break up.

The light fuel, thought to be diesel used as a lubricant for the ship’s machinery and to power dinghies, was discovered in the waters off the coast of the Tuscan island of Giglio as divers recovered the body of a woman from the interior of the ship, bringing the death toll to 12.

Meanwhile, court documents emerged in which the captain, Francesco Schettino, is recorded as telling shipping line bosses that he had “messed up” shortly after the cruise liner with more than 4,000 people on board hit a reef nine days ago. Twenty people are still missing.

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The leakage of fuel – 185 tons is onboard – sparked concerns that the Costa Concordia, which is lying on a rocky shelf, is in danger of breaking apart. However, Italian Coastguard spokesman Commander Cosimo Nicastro said there was no indication yet that any of the 2,200 tons of heavy fuel oil had leaked from the ship’s double-bottomed tanks.

However, Franco Gabrielli, the head of Italy’s civil protection agency, said that although attention has been concentrated on the heavy fuel oil in the tanks, “we must not forget that on that ship there are oils, solvents, detergents – everything that a city of 4,000 people needs”.

Schettino is under house arrest in Naples facing charges of manslaughter and abandoning ship, which he denies, after he allegedly left the liner before hundreds of passengers. The court documents, published in Italian newspapers, revealed the frantic call he made to his bosses 23 minutes after the ship had struck rocks and torn a 70-metre hole in the hull.

As terrified passengers began asking what had happened, after the ship was plunged briefly into darkness, the documents said that Schettino called Costa Cruises operations manager Roberto Ferrarini in Genoa and told him: “I messed up. We have touched the bottom [of the sea].

“I am telling you the truth. We sailed past Giglio and we took a hit. All of a sudden I saw foam on the surface of the water off the bow of the ship. I knew immediately it was a reef that had not shown up on the radar.”

The ship was travelling at 16 knots. Schettino ordered the wheel to be turned “full to the right” and called for the engines to be thrown in “full reverse”, but it was too late.

Schettino told investigating judge Valeria Montesarchio how, after he had crashed into the rocks, he sent two senior officers down to the engine room. They reported that it was flooded and water was pouring in.

Costa Cruises, owned by US-based Carnival Group is now facing a lawsuit on behalf of so far more than 100 passengers, each seeking between £105,000 and £1 million.

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Two US law firms, which have joined forces with Italy’s consumer association Codacons, are planning to file the class-action lawsuit.

Mitchell Proner, a lawyer with Proner & Proner, said: “Along with Codacons, we have formed an association and our firms are collectively going to be filing a suit in Miami, by Wednesday, on behalf of all the victims of the Costa Concordia disaster.”