Search of Italian ship suspended as wreck shifts

Hopes of finding 23 still missing have all but disappeared; salvage experts preparing to pump 2,300 tons of fuel from hulk.

Costa Concordia 311 (photo credit: REUTERS)
Costa Concordia 311
(photo credit: REUTERS)
GIGLIO, Italy - Divers searching the capsized Italian cruise liner Costa Concordia suspended work on Wednesday after the vast wreck shifted slightly but officials said they are hoping to resume as soon as possible.
Five days after the 114,500 ton cruise ship struck a rock and capsized off the Tuscan island of Giglio, hopes of finding anyone alive have all but disappeared and salvage experts are preparing to pump 2,300 tons of fuel from the hulk.
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The ship's captain, Francesco Schettino, blamed for causing the accident by coming too close to shore and then abandoning the vessel before the evacuation was complete, was put under house arrest on Tuesday after being questioned by a judge.
The search continued overnight on sections above the water line but and until the order was given to suspend work, divers had been preparing to resume the difficult and dangerous search of partly submerged areas of the giant ship.
"The visibility is awful. Yesterday I couldn't see my hand in front of my face," said Giuseppe Minciotti, director of a school for cave divers in the northern city of Verona and part of the specialist team deployed on the wreck.
"I grabbed a piece of floating debris, and I couldn't see what it was until I had my head out of the water. It was a woman's shoe," he said.
"We're waiting today for new openings to be made, and we'll see if the visibility is any better in those points."
Coast guard spokesman Cosimo Nicastro said work would focus on an evacuation assembly area on the partially submerged fourth deck, where most of the 11 bodies found so far have been located.
"It's where we have already found seven of the bodies and it's where the passengers and crew gathered to abandon ship," said coast guard spokesman Cosimo Nicastro.
At least 23 people are still missing from the 4,200 passengers and crew aboard when disaster struck the Concordia, a vast floating resort just two hours into a week-long cruise of the western Mediterranean.