Costa Concordia operation halted amid weather threat

Footage shows divers inside the Costa Concordia, courtesy of the Italian fire brigade and police

The rescue operation aboard the Costa Concordia has been suspended once again after the wreck shifted on the sea ledge on which it rests.

It is the third time the search has been called off, amid fears the ship could suddenly slip into deeper water.

Choppy waters have been hampering the work of rescue teams and weather conditions are expected to worsen.

Earlier, a video emerged showing the crew of the stricken vessel assuring passengers nothing was wrong.

In the amateur footage, a crew member says "everything is under control" and asks passengers to go to their cabins despite the fact that the cruise ship had begun taking in water.

It is thought the delay in deciding to abandon the ship may have cost lives.

At least 11 people died after the Costa Concordia ran aground off Italy's coast exactly a week ago with some 4,200 people on board.

List of dead and missing

  • Confirmed dead: Sandor Feher, Hungary, crew; French nationals Pierre Gregoire, Jeanne Gannard, Jean-Pierre Micheaud, Francis Servil, passengers; Italian Giovanni Masia, passenger; Spaniard Guillermo Gual, passenger; Peruvian Thomas Alberto Costilla Mendoza, crew.
  • Missing: 21 people plus three unidentified bodies. Nationalities as follows: 12 Germans, six Italians (including one crew member), two French, two Americans, one Peruvian (crew), one Indian (crew)

Twenty-one people are still missing, and hopes of finding any of them alive are fading fast.

Deeper water

The ship's movements have twice before interrupted the work of rescuers, with the search suspended almost all day on Wednesday.

More movement on Friday forced rescuers on board the vessel and divers working in the waters around it to stop work, said a spokesman for the coastguard, Cosima Nicastro.

Investigations were under way to assess the danger posed by the ship's instability, he said.

The ship may have only moved by a metre or as little as a few centimetres, but officials are wary of any movement that could push it into much deeper water nearby, says the BBC's Alan Johnston at the scene.

He says it will be another agonising delay for the relatives all around the world of those still missing.

But hopes that any survivors remain on board the wreck have faded and pressure is building to move into the recovery phase of the operation.

Amateur footage of crew's advice to passengers courtesy of Rai TV

One of the key tasks will be to begin siphoning off 2,300 tonnes of fuel oil thought to be in the ship's 17 tanks to prevent it leaking into pristine waters. That operation reportedly could take two weeks.

The latest amateur footage was posted online by Italy's Rainews24 on Thursday.

'Under control'

In it, a female crew member is heard telling passengers: "We kindly ask you to return to your cabins, or go for a walk in the hall, if you like."

She says that she is relaying a message from the commander.

"We'll resolve the electrical problem that we have with the generator. Everything will be fine. If you want to stand here, it's fine.

"But I'm kindly asking you to go back to your rooms, where you'll be seated and tranquil. Everything is under control."

The footage comes from the period after the ship hit the reef when it was obviously in trouble, our correspondent says.

Even putting the best gloss on this statement from point of view of Capt Francesco Schettino - perhaps he was thinking the ship's pumps could cope with the incoming water - it would still seem unwise to tell passengers to go down into the depths of the ship to their cabins, he says.

An Italian police diver inspects the wreck of the Costa Concordia off Giglio island, Italy, on Thursday, in a picture released by Italian police After the rescue effort end, salvage teams will move in to try to remove the fuel from the boat

In an audio tape following the collision aired on Thursday, a crew member is heard describing the situation on board to a port authority official simply as a "blackout" - leaving the impression, our correspondent says, that the crewman failed to relay the gravity of the situation.

But in another account, a Moldovan woman and former employee of the cruise company who says she was on the bridge after the ship ran aground has defended the captain.

"I've heard through Russian media that the captain was the first or one of the first to leave - but that's not true," Domnica Cemortan tells Moldovan TV.

"I'm a witness... I can say that I left the deck at 23:50 following an order from the captain himself."

The reports say investigators are trying to speak to her.

Captain's denials

Capt Schettino is under house arrest on suspicion of multiple manslaughter.

The owners say he was sailing too close to Giglio on an unauthorised course.

Prosecutors have also accused him of fleeing the ship before evacuation was complete. He denies the accusations.

However Italian media have said Capt Schettino did admit to making a navigational error.

He also reportedly said the crew had decided to sail close to the island to salute a former colleague.

The company that owns the ship, Costa Cruises, has suspended Capt Schettino and withdrawn an offer to pay his legal costs, according to reports.

Were you on the cruise ship? Are you still waiting to hear of news of your missing friend or relative? Are you involved in the rescue effort? Share your experiences.

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