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Oversight of Cruise Lines at Issue As Italian Rescue Efforts Resume - New York Times

Written By Ivan Kolev on Tuesday, January 17, 2012 | 6:58 PM

Gregorio Borgia/Associated PressOil removal ships worked Monday night off the coast of Tuscany to keep the Costa Concordia from leaking fuel into a marine wildlife sanctuary.

PARIS — As the world was transfixed by the Titanic-like imagery of the partly submerged Costa Concordia, and frantic efforts to save the fuel-laden vessel resumed on Tuesday off the Tuscan coast, questions swirled about the enormous cruise line industry, which operates without much regulation.

Gianni Onorato, the general director of Costa Cruises, covered his face during a news conference in Genoa, Italy, on Monday.


The ship’s detained captain, Francesco Schettino, was accused Monday by his bosses of deviating from a fixed, computerized course to show off his beautiful $450 million boat, carrying more than 4,200 passengers and crew members, to the people of Giglio Island on a still Friday night, crashing it on a reef. News reports on Tuesday said a judge would decide whether the skipper should be formally arrested.

At dawn on Tuesday, rescuers intensified their efforts to find survivors, using small charges of explosives to blast a way through the hull to reach submerged cabins and corridors while salvage experts were set to explain how they planned to prevent the liner’s half-million gallons of fuel from spilling into the pristine, wintry waters — a marine wildlife sanctuary — just off Giglio’s port.

Rescue efforts were suspended briefly on Monday after the vessel settled on its rocky resting place, sinking further into the water. As the operation resumed Tuesday, reporters heard the sound of four controlled explosions blasting into the hull.

Sergeant Antonino Ruggero, an Italian Navy diver, told reporters on Tuesday that the explosions had created holes measuring around four feet wide, designed to accelerate rescue efforts and “create passages in the points where, based on our own evaluations, it looked like it was easier to find people, and from where it is easier for rescuers to get in and possibly leave the ship in a rush, if it moves again.”

Luca Cari, a spokesman for the fire fighters spearheading the operation, said there was still a “glimmer of hope” that survivors could be found, while Coast Guard spokesman Filippo Marini said rescuers were hoping that some of those listed as missing had left the ship without notifying the authorities.

More than 72 hours after the accident killed at least six people, confusion still reigned over how many were missing. Italy’s coast guard abruptly raised the total to 29 late Monday after having said 16, including 2 Americans, remained unaccounted for. Authorities denied reports that a seventh body had been found.

Officials said on Tuesday that the yally of people missing was made up of 14 Germans, 6Italians, 4 French passengers and two Americans, in addition to crewcrew members from Peru, India, and Hungary.

As shares in the ship’s parent company — Carnival Corporation of Miami, the world’s biggest cruise line operator — slid by nearly a fifth on Monday and the owners and insurers tried to add up the cost of the disaster, there were more troubling issues raised about how the cruise industry is supervised and controlled.

Those issues included how much safety information and training are required for the crew and passengers, and how much discretion a captain has to alter routes, especially in an age when electronic radar, charts, GPS and other guidance systems are supposed to keep these large, sleek ships on course.

“There are legitimate questions as these vessels have substantially evolved in recent years,” said Helen Kearns, a spokeswoman for Siim Kallas, the European Union transportation commissioner. “The boats have gotten a lot bigger, as it’s economically advantageous to have more passengers,” she said. “But the way these vessels have grown in size does mean finding the right balance to make sure regulations are stringent enough to ensure there are procedures like safe evacuations.”

While airline pilots are directed and guided by controllers on the ground, sea captains are considered to be in complete control. “It’s not like the aircraft industry, where you file a flight plan,” said Peter Wild, a cruise industry consultant at G. P. Wild (International) Limited, a consultancy outside London.

Rather, at most cruise lines, company directors determine the routes, which are then transmitted to the captain and a navigating officer, who scrutinize the charted course but are meant to follow it.

Steven Erlanger reported from Paris and Gaia Pianigiani from Giglio, Italy. David Jolly, Scott Sayare and Maia de la Baume contributed reporting from Paris; James Kanter from Brussels; Alan Cowell and Julia Werdigier from London; and Henry Fountain, Peter Lattman and Rick Gladstone from New York.

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