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Potential fuel leak a concern for Costa Concordia

Jim Fee, a yacht skipper for three decades, discusses the potential ecological problems related to the Costa Concordia disaster. NBC's Harry Smith reports.

 

Updated at 8 p.m. ET: The latest concern over the heavily listing Costa Concordia, which ran aground Friday night off the coast of Italy, is whether a fuel leak could lead to an environmental disaster in the region.

"He's got 2,400 tons of diesel fuel on there," Jim Fee, a yacht skipper for three decades, told NBC News. "If the weather changes, if it starts breaking up, if they can't get it off fast enough, this whole area could be contaminated and the tourism industry here would just be shot." 

It could take months, or possibly years, to clean up the damaged ship, Life's Little Mysteries reports:

First, salvage crews will need to conduct underwater inspections to evaluate the damage of the starboard (submerged) side of the hull. The port-side hull and the rest of the ship that's visible above the waterline have sustained substantial damage. How badly the rocks have gouged the starboard hull will determine how the salvage companies proceed.

Then there's the fuel. The large cruise ship was carrying more than 2,000 tons of diesel fuel when it wrecked. There are no apparent leaks, but officials have deployed anti-spill booms around the ship, in case it shifts on the rocks and one of 17 tanks ruptures. Any spill could cause an ecological nightmare in the area.

A Dutch company called Smit, which specializes in salvage operations, will remove the remaining fuel using a system of pumps and valves that will vacuum the oil out of the ship and into transport tanks. This process will take two to four weeks.

Following that, the next step would be to get the ship upright and then clean out the galleys and recover passengers' belongings. If the ship can be patched and stabilized, it will likely be towed away by tugboats.

It's possible that repairs could make the vessel seaworthy again, but that will be decided by the ship's insurer, who will have to assess the full cost of repairs. Based on initial reports, several experts believe it's more likely that the ship will be declared a total loss and chopped up for scrap.

"It may be the ship isn't salvageable and it isn't possible to right it, patch it up and send it on its way, because fundamental damage has been done," Dawn Gorman, editor of the magazine International Tug & OSV, told Life's Little Mysteries. 

 

During a heated conversation the Italian coast guard told the captain of the Costa Concordia to go back to the ship. NBC's Michelle Kosinski reports.

Updated at 7:30 p.m. ET: Costa Concordia Capt. Francesco Schettino appeared Tuesday before a judge in Grosseto, Tuscany, where he was questioned for three hours.

Criminal charges including manslaughter and abandoning ship are expected to be filed by prosecutors in coming days. He faces 12 years in prison for the abandoning ship charge alone.

Schettino's lawyer, Bruno Leporatti, said urine and hair samples have been taken from Schettino, apparently to determine if he might have consumed alcohol or used drugs before the accident.

Schettino has worked for 11 years for the ship's Italian operator, Costa Crociere SpA, achieving the rank of captain in 2006. He hails from Meta di Sorrento in the Naples area, which produces many of Italy's ferry and cruise boat captains. He attended the Nino Bixio merchant marine school near Sorrento.

Updated at 3:20 p.m. ET: Rescue workers discovered five bodies on Tuesday, bringing the death toll of the Costa Concordia accident to 11. The adult bodies, believed to be passengers, were all wearing life jackets and were found in the rear of the ship near an emergency evacuation point, according to Italian Coast Guard Cmdr. Cosimo Nicastro.

The discovery came hours after Italian naval divers used explosives to blow holes in the ship's hull in an effort to find 29 missing passengers.

"Virtually all the dry part has been searched. It would need a miracle to find anyone alive in the wet part," a specialist told Reuters before climbing aboard the wreck for a fourth day of search and rescue.

After Schettino, the ship's disgraced captain, was interrogated by prosecutors for three hours Tuesday, a judge in Grosseto, Tuscany, ruled that the captain, who had been detained a few hours after he allegedly abandoned the Concordia, should be released from jail and confined to his home near Naples under house arrest, his lawyer, Bruno Leporatti, told reporters outside the courthouse. 

Prosecutors wanted him kept in Grosseto's prison, and Leporatti had asked that he be freed. 

A transcript of a conversation between Schettino and Capt. Gregorio De Falco of the Italian coast guard in Livorno, shows the coast guard official urgently commanding the captain to return to the cruise ship after he had abandoned it.

"There are people trapped on board," De Falco said. "Now you go with your boat under the prow on the starboard side. There is a pilot ladder. You will climb that ladder and go on board. You go on board and then you will tell me how many people there are. Is that clear? I'm recording this conversation, Cmdr. Schettino ..."

Scorned captain not alone in history

Schettino resisted returning to the ship, saying "I am here with the rescue boats, I am here, I am not going anywhere, I am here."

"You go aboard. It is an order. Don't make any more excuses," De Falco said. "You have declared 'abandon ship.' Now I am in charge. You go on board! Is that clear? Do you hear me? Go, and call me when you are aboard. My air rescue crew is there." 

"But you do realize it is dark and here we can't see anything," Schettino told the coast guard.

De Falco responded: "And so what? You want to go home, Schettino? It is dark and you want to go home? Get on that prow of the boat using the pilot ladder and tell me what can be done, how many people there are and what their needs are. Now!"

The captain of the ill-fated cruise liner that ran aground off the coast of Italy is being arraigned on criminal charges, including manslaughter, causing a shipwreck and abandoning ship. NBC's Michelle Kosinski reports.

Schettino is accused of causing the wreck and abandoning his ship before the more than 4,200 people aboard were evacuated.

NBC News is reporting that the captain had a history of disobeying orders. Schettino, according to Italian news reports, had once left Marseilles, France, in bad weather, against company policy and coast guard orders. The captain was also once reportedly caught sailing too close to the shore in another part of Italy.

Maria Papa and her daughter, Melissa Goduti, who were both on the ill-fated cruise ship that ran aground off the coast of Italy, talk to TODAY's Ann Curry about the harrowing and chaotic experience.

Cruise survivors: 'There was so much chaos'

Updated at 5:58 a.m. ET:  Italian naval divers on Tuesday used explosives to blow holes in the hull of a cruise ship grounded off a Tuscan island to speed the search for 29 missing people. One official said there was still a "glimmer of hope" that survivors could be found.

Prosecutors, meanwhile, prepared to question the captain, who is accused of causing the wreck that left at least 11 dead and abandoning the Costa Concordia before all 4,200 people on board were safely evacuated when the vessel capsized Friday night.

NBC News reported that Captain Francesco Schettino had arrived at the courthouse in Grosseto, Italy.

Navy spokesman Alessandro Busonero told Sky TV 24 the holes will help divers enter the wreck more easily. "We are rushing against time," he said.

PhotoBlog: Underwater photos of wrecked ship

The divers set four microcharges above and below the surface of the water, Busonero said. Television footage showed one hole above the waterline to be less than 6 feet in diameter. 

Published at 3:08 a.m. ET: A stricken Italian cruise liner shifted on its rocky resting place as worsening weather disrupted an increasingly despairing hunt for survivors and authorities almost doubled their estimate of the number of missing people to 29.

As the Costa Concordia's owners accused their captain of veering too close to shore in a "salute" to residents of a Tuscan island, the giant ship slid a little on Monday, threatening to plunge 500,000 gallons of fuel below the Mediterranean waters of the surrounding nature reserve.

The slippage forced rescuers to suspend efforts to find anyone still alive after three days in the capsized hull, resting on a jagged slope outside the picturesque harbor on the island of Giglio. Most of the 4,200 passengers and crew survived, despite hours of chaos.

Carnival, cruise sector count cost of disaster

Captain Francesco Schettino was arrested a day after the disaster and accused of manslaughter and abandoning the ship before all of the people were evacuated. Prosecutors say he also refused to go back on board when requested by the coast guard.

Rescue operations have been called off after the Costa Concordia slipped further into the sea. Rescue workers had to be plucked from the ship by helicopter. ITN's Neil Connery reports.

Schettino was due to appear before magistrates for questioning on Tuesday morning.

An Italian Coast Guard official, Marco Brusco, said late Monday that the number of people missing had been revised up to 29 -- 25 passengers and four members of staff -- from 16, showing how much uncertainty still surrounded the disaster

He didn't explain the jump, but indicated 10 of the missing are Germans.

'They were really excited'
Two Americans are also among the missing. Jerry and Barbara Heil live in White Bear Lake, a suburb of about 25,000 people 15 miles outside St. Paul, Minn.

Sarah Heil, their daughter, told WBBM radio in Chicago that her parents had been looking forward to their 16-day vacation.

"They raised four kids and sent them all to private school, elementary to college, so they never had any money," Sarah Heil said. "So when they retired, they went traveling. And this was to be a big deal — a 16-day trip. They were really excited about it."

Brusco said there was still "a glimmer of hope" there could be survivors on parts of the vast cruise liner that have yet to be searched. The last survivor, a crewman who had broken his leg, was rescued on Sunday.

Luciano Roncalli, a senior firefighter, told Reuters that all the unsubmerged areas of the liner had been searched.

Regardless of the waters they're operating in, cruise ships are governed by a series of international maritime treaties that set standards for everything from evacuation procedures to emergency crew training. NBC's Tom Costello reports.

Environment Minister Corrado Clini said he would declare a state of emergency because of the risk that the ship's fuel would leak into the pristine Tuscan Archipelago National Park. No fuel spillage has been detected so far, he said on an Italian television show on Monday evening.

Should rougher seas dislodge the wreck and cause it to sink or break up, that could scupper any hopes for the owners, a unit of Florida's Carnival Corp., of salvaging a liner which cost hundreds of millions of dollars to build just six years ago.

Investigators say the ship was far too close to the shore and its owners, Costa Cruises, said the captain had carried out the rash maneuver to "make a bow" to people on Giglio island, who included a retired Italian admiral.

Schettino denies charges of manslaughter.

Cruise tragedy conjures memories of Titanic

The father of the ship's head waiter told Reuters that his son had telephoned him before the accident to say the crew would salute him by blowing the ship's whistle as they passed close by Giglio, where both the waiter, Antonello Tievoli, and his 82-year-old father Giuseppe live.

Video shot by a waiter inside the dining room of the capsized ship Costa Concordia shows scenes of chaos, moments after passengers became aware there was a problem. NBC's Harry Smith reports.

Costa Cruises chief executive Pier Luigi Foschi on Monday blamed errors by Schettino for the disaster. He told a news conference the company would provide its captain with any assistance he required. "But we need to acknowledge the facts and we cannot deny human error," he added.

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Msnbc.com staff, Reuters and The Associated Press contributed to this report.