Italy: Divers find 8 more bodies in ship wreckage

Costa Concordia
Technicians work near the cruise liner Costa Concordia lying aground in front of the Isola del Giglio on January 27, 2012 after hitting underwater rocks on January 13.

By FRANCES D'EMILIO, Associated Press

ROME (AP) — Divers searching the capsized Costa Concordia cruise ship off a Tuscan island found eight bodies Wednesday on one of the passenger decks, including that of a missing 5-year-old Italian girl, authorities said.

Italy's national civil protection agency, which is monitoring the operation off a Tuscan island, said three of the bodies were recovered a few hours after being spotted by fire department divers. It said they are those of a woman, a girl and a man. Because of worsening weather, the divers were not able to immediately remove the other five bodies.

The bodies were being transferred to a hospital on the mainland for identification, a process which could take days. Before Wednesday's development, 15 people were listed as missing, but only one of them was a child, Dayana Arlotti. The 5-year-old girl was on the Mediterranean cruise with her father and his girlfriend. The girlfriend survived. The father was among the missing.

Including the missing - who are presumed dead - and bodies already recovered, the death toll in the accident stands at 32.

Dayana's father, Williams, had a history of health problems, and was said by family to be traveling to celebrate a new lease on life - he had received a kidney and pancreas transplant in the past. Some witnesses told media that they last saw him during the evacuation as he headed back to his cabin to retrieve life-saving medication.

The Concordia, which was carrying some 4,200 passengers and crew, struck a reef off the Tuscan island of Giglio on Jan. 13, took on water and started listing badly until it lay on its side. Giglio is a tiny island of fishermen and tourist hotels.

Most of the victims were found on the capsized ship in the first week or two after the accident. Three corpses were recovered from the water a few hours after it grounded.

Officials coordinating the search efforts said divers went into an area where survivors had told rescuers some passengers had been gathering to await evacuation. Many of the ship's lifeboats couldn't be launched after the ship leaned heavily on one side.

Diving search experts from France, Sweden and Britain planned to meet with the Italian diving teams to lend assistance. Decomposing refuse and floating furniture inside the submerged ship have complicated the divers' work.

On Wednesday, helicopters lowered the Italian divers onto the above-water section of the Concordia, and then the divers scrambled down the side and swam through openings into wreckage.

Dayana's mother in the first days after the accident had been quoted as saying she was holding out hope her little girl somehow survived. After word came Wednesday that the child's body was seen, she was reported to be heading to the hospital where the bodies were brought.

"I can't say if the mother was freed from a nightmare or not," her lawyer, Davide Veschi, told Sky TG24 TV.

The Concordia struck the reef when it veered too close to the island while passengers were having dinner in the ship's main dining hall. The captain, Francesco Schettino, is under house arrest at his home near Naples. He is being investigated for alleged manslaughter, causing a shipwreck and abandoning ship while passengers and crew were still onboard.

He denies abandoning ship and contends the reef wasn't marked on navigational charts, although sailors say the reef's location is well known and is on tourist maps. Another of ship's officer also is under investigation.

Italian news reports said Tuscan prosecutors were in the process of notifying other persons that they were formally being investigated, although their roles were not immediately specified.

(Copyright 2012 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)