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Cruise ship survivors sue cruise line for $460 million

Officials have called off the search for missing people in the submerged part of the sunken ship. NBC's Brian Williams reports.

GIGLIO, Italy -- Calling an initial compensation offer “insulting,” an attorney representing Costa Concordia passengers announced Tuesday details of a $460 million class-action lawsuit against the owner of the wrecked cruise ship, The Guardian reports.
 
The lawsuit comes more than two weeks after the cruise ship, owned by Costa Cruise Lines, an affiliate of Carnival Corp., capsized Jan. 13 off the coast of Italy, killing 17. At least 16 passengers remain missing and are presumed dead.
 
Mitchell Proner, a New York-based personal injury attorney, said his firm of Proner & Proner, along with a coalition of international lawyers, is representing more than 500 passengers. He announced details of the civil lawsuit filed in Florida on Tuesday during a press conference in Genoa, Italy, according to The Guardian. He called Costa Cruise Lines’ initial offer of $14,460 to passengers for lost baggage and psychological trauma “insulting.”
 
“They must be held responsible for what they did,” Proner said. “They intentionally put the passengers at risk. We believe we can win in Florida and we are going to go forward, forward, forward without fear until they don't know what hit them … sort of like the Concordia.”
 
Proner has teamed up with another New York firm, Napoli Bern Ripka Shkolnik, noted for winning compensation for Ground Zero workers who had health claims related to the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.
 
The civil lawsuit has been filed in Florida, the home base of Carnival. While Costa Cruise Lines is headquartered in Italy, it is also registered in Hollywood, Fla.
 
“At present, it is unknown as to whether the US courts will accept the class-action claim, given that the conditions set forth by the cruise ship tickets specify that litigation must take place in the Italian courts,” according to a blog post on the Proner & Proner website.
 
Unlike in Italy, accident victims who file suit in the United States can recover punitive damages if they can prove a defendant acted egregiously, Reuters reports. These damages can soar above the amount of any actual loss. U.S. lawyers who bring successful cases on behalf of injured people can be awarded fees of as much as 30 percent of any recovery.
 
Meanwhile, Italian emergency officials say they are calling off a search for missing people in the submerged part of the Costa Concordia cruise ship, due to the danger to rescue workers, according to the Associated Press.
 

Italy's Civil Protection agency said Tuesday that technical studies indicated that the deformed hull of the ship created too many safety concerns to continue the search. It said in a statement that relatives and diplomatic officials representing the countries of the missing have been informed of the decision.

A spokeswoman for Civil Protection, Francesca Maffini, stressed that the search for the missing would continue wherever possible, including on the part of the ship above the water, in the waters surrounding the ship and along the nearby coastline.

The Concordia ran aground off the island of Giglio on Jan. 13 when the captain deviated from his planned route and struck a reef, creating a huge gash that capsized the ship.

The ship, precariously resting on one side, will likely be a part of the scenery off the Italian island of Giglio for the better part of a year.

The cruise line is considering bids for the ship's removal and is expected to make a decision -- based on method and costs -- in two months, NBC News has learned. Actual removal could take up to 10 months.

Inclement weather over the weekend shut down search and salvage efforts at the site of the ship wreck off the Tuscan coast. High winds and rough seas delayed plans to begin pumping 500,000 gallons of fuel off the Concordia. That effort will likely continue midweek. A barge carrying pumping equipment that was attached to the capsized ship was withdrawn after strong winds and high waves worsened conditions for the divers working on the huge wreck.

The operation, aimed at preventing an environmental disaster in the pristine waters off a marine nature reserve, could take up to one month to complete.

Residents of Giglio have been circulating a petition to demand that officials provide more information on how the full-scale operations can co-exist with the important tourism season. At the moment, access to the port for private boats has been banned and all boats must stay at least one mile from the wrecked ship, affecting access to Giglio's only harbor for fishermen, scuba divers and private boat owners.

"We are really sorry, we would have preferred to save them all. But now other needs and other problems arise," said Franca Melils, a local business owner who is promoting a petition for the tourist season. "It's about us, who work and make a living exclusively from tourism. We don't have factories, we don't have anything else." 

DigitalGlobe

The Costa Concordia, carrying more than 4,200 passengers, ran aground Jan. 13 off the coast of Italy. At least 15 people died in the accident, and rescuers continue to search for others missing.

Carnival Corp. said on Monday that it will take a hit between $155 million and $175 million against fiscal 2012 net income because of the Concordia wreck. In an annual report filing with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission, Carnival also said it significantly reduced its marketing activities after the wreck.

"Costa's booking activity is difficult to interpret because of the significant re-booking activity stemming from the loss of the ship's use and related re-deployments," the company said. "However, we believe it to be down significantly. Despite these recent trends, we believe the incident will not have a significant long-term impact on our business."

Related: Passengers on wrecked ship offered $14,460

The Concordia's captain, Francesco Schettino, is under house arrest, suspected of causing the accident by steering too close to shore, and faces charges of multiple manslaughter and abandoning ship before the evacuation was complete.

The ship's first officer, Ciro Ambrosio, has also been questioned by prosecutors but the company itself has not been implicated in the investigation at this stage.

NBC News, The Associated Press and Reuters contributed to this report.

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