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Body found on Concordia shipwreck; death toll at 12

By Manuel Schwarz and Peter Mayer –

GIGLIO, Italy — The body of a woman was found in the shipwreck of the Costa Concordia cruise ship on Saturday, raising the death toll to 12, as Italian officials said the search for missing people would continue.

Divers — using explosives to blast their way past debris — found the body near the half-sunken ship’s stern, coast guard officials said.

Earlier, the official appointed by the Italian government to head the rescue efforts said the search for survivors from the shipwreck would remain “the priority.”

Franco Gabrielli, who heads Italy’s civil protection agency, said no time limit had been set yet on when to call off the search efforts on board the listing vessel.

“It will be a complicated decision for which I will take full responsibility,” Gabrielli told a news conference on Giglio island, not far from where the Concordia ran aground eight days ago.

Gabrielli also mentioned the need to begin emptying the ship’s tanks of thousands of tons of environmentally hazardous fuels — an operation which has been put on hold as efforts have concentrated on the search for survivors and the retrieval of bodies from the Concordia.

Gabrielli said he would be holding talks Sunday with Smit Salvage — a Dutch company commissioned to remove the fuel — to see if it was possible to search for missing people at the same time as emptying, or sealing off, the ship’s tanks.

The search operation — including the use of micro depth charges to create holes for divers to enter the vessel — was focusing on deck five, where it is thought some of the missing people may still be.

Of the more than 4,000 passengers aboard the ship at the time of the accident, more than 20 are still missing.

“There is absolute hope,” of finding survivors, the German ambassador to Italy, Michael Gerdts, told the German news agency dpa.

Gerdts was visiting Giglio, where he said he had offered Germany’s “gratitude” to the Italian rescuers who have been risking their lives searching the wreckage of the 290-meter-long Concordia.

According to some reports, about 12 of the missing are German nationals.

The divers’ search operations had to be broken off Friday so they could have a rest.

Overnight, special fire crews had searched the parts of the ship that remain above water. A spokesman said the Costa Concordia had not shifted during these operations.

The ship’s precarious perch on the rocks that gouged a hole in it, and the risk that it might continue to list further, have been a constant source of danger for search and rescue operators since the Jan. 13 accident, regularly forcing them to pause their work.

The Concordia’s captain, Francesco Schettino, remained under house arrest while prosecutors were trying to have him indicted on charges of manslaughter, causing a shipwreck and abandoning the ship before all were evacuated.

Schettino has reportedly admitting veering the ship off course, causing it to crash against rocks near Giglio. However, he insists he helped coordinate the evacuation but was forced to do so from Giglio’s docks, after slipping off the listing ship onto a lifeboat.

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