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Cruise ship disaster

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Michael Watts

Staff writer

On Friday, January 13, passengers aboard the luxury cruise, Costa Concordia, have just begun to have a nice dinner until an unexpected “bang” sent the cutlery, silverware and glasses flying across the room. Sea water began to flood the lower decks. The lights suddenly burn out, leaving the rooms inside the ship dark and the passengers panic stricken. All the passengers were confused about what happened and were soon told to evacuate.

The ship had run aground and was capsized off the coast of Tuscany, Italy, sending water rushing through a 160 foot gash in the ship’s hull. The ship moved 3.5 inches vertically and 0.6 horizontally from where it was stranded. Out of the 4,234 passengers on board the ship, eleven have died, 42 were injured, and 28 remain missing. The U.S. Embassy in Rome said 120 Americans were counted on board the cruise liner, but two are among the missing. Friends and family are praying for the safe return of Minnesota couple Gerard and Barbara Heil, ages 69 and 70. Mark Toner, a U.S. State Department spokesman said Monday that the U.S. Embassy to Italy has asked for help from anyone with information concerning the couple’s whereabouts. State officials are in contact with relatives of the Heil’s and are working with Costa cruise lines and Italian officials to support all possible assistance. Anyone with information concerning their whereabouts is asked to email ItalyConcordiaUSC@state.gov, Toner said.

Many believe that the captain of the Costa Concordia, Francesco Schettino, accidentally caused the ship to capsize by sailing too close to the rocky shores of Giglio to delight his head waiter who is from the island. Officials and witnesses say that the disaster may have been caused by a dangerous close-passing the island of Giglio in a foghorn blasting acknowledgement to the local population. Soon after the ship capsized, the captain abandoned ship before his passengers and crew. Coast Guard Captain Gregorio DeFalco, who furiously ordered the captain to return to his ship to oversee the rescue operations, was deemed a hero on Wednesday, credited with saving the national honor on one of its hopeless days.

“I’m no hero,” DeFalco told reporters on Wednesday as he arrived at a magistrate’s office in the Tuscan city of Grosseto to give testimony for the investigation.

Premier Mario Monti has offered his first comments on Tuesday, saying such a disaster “could and should” have been avoided and confirmed that all precautions were being taken to guarantee there is no fuel leak. Monti also acknowledged on Wednesday a concern about a promising leak of the 500,000 gallons of fuel aboard the ship. He said officials have made limiting and preventing leaks a top priority, as well as caring for the victims. A Dutch company also said it would be ready to begin working on pumping the fuel from the ship avoid a potential environmental disaster. Fire department spokesman, Luca Cari said once the go ahead is given, the plan is to both continue the search for the missing and begin work on pumping the fuel in a cycle.