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The Costa Concordia’s bell is reported to have gone missing, two months after the ship ran aground off Italy.

An investigation has been launched into the disappearance, the Italian news agency Ansa reports.

The images of the Costa Concordia’s bell, taken underwater by divers soon after the vessel sank, became a well-known image associated with the disaster.

At least 30 people are believed to have died when the ship struck rocks near the Tuscan coast in January.

Soon after the Costa Concordia capsized, images taken by divers showed the bell still hanging in position on the wreck, but several metres under water.

The location of the wreck, off the island of Giglio, is considered a crime scene and is continually patrolled by coastguard launches.

This would make it almost impossible for any diver intending to loot the wreck to enter and steal the bell.

The images of the Costa Concordia’s bell, taken underwater by divers soon after the vessel sank, became a well-known image associated with the disaster

The images of the Costa Concordia’s bell, taken underwater by divers soon after the vessel sank, became a well-known image associated with the disaster

It is likely that if the bell’s disappearance is confirmed, suspicion will focus on the search-and-rescue teams, who have constant access to the wreck.

It would have been difficult to get the large, heavy and gleaming bell onto the shore unnoticed – and it is possible that it has simply dislodged itself, he adds.

The Costa Concordia lies half-submerged in a precarious position on an underwater slope, and is considered to be at risk of slipping further into the depths.

Costa Concordia’s captain, Francesco Schettino, denies accusations of manslaughter, causing a shipwreck and abandoning ship before all those aboard were evacuated.

 

Domnica Cemortan, the Moldovan blonde tour rep who was accused of causing the sinking of the Costa Concordia by romantically distracting Captain Francesco Schettino has given her first full newspaper interview “to set the record straight”.

Domnica Cemortan, 25, had been dining and flirting with Captain Francesco Schettino, 52, before the disaster and was with him on the bridge when the ship struck rocks on January 13.

It was widely reported that Francesco Schettino, now known universally as Captain Coward, may have been trying to impress Domnica Cemortan when his ship sailed off course.

For the past six weeks the Moldovan young woman has been at the centre of worldwide attempts to uncover precisely what happened on the night that up to 32 people lost their lives off the Italian coastline.

Rumors about the nature of her relationship with Francesco Schettino have led to her being called a siren, a woman of loose morals, and everything in between.

Through it all Domnica Cemortan has repeatedly denied any romance between her and the married captain. Even after her luggage and bikinis were discovered in the captain’s submerged cabin, she insisted it was “all lies”.

Last week, after The Mail on Sunday tracked her down in her homeland, where she lives with her mother and 2-year-old daughter, Domnica Cemortan finally revealed her true feelings for the discredited Captain Francesco Schettino.

The Costa Concordia captain is currently under house arrest on suspicion of multiple manslaughter, abandoning ship and causing shipwreck. If convicted, Francesco Schattino faces 15 years in jail.

Domnica Cemortan admits that not only had she been alone with the captain in his cabin earlier during the evening of the tragedy, but that they had shared a passionate kiss, which she suspects was a prelude to them becoming lovers.

The Moldovan woman had previously worked on the ship for three weeks translating for Russian passengers and it was then that she got to know Francesco Schettino. When her contract ended the month before the tragedy, Domnica Cemortan returned as a paying passenger on the ill-fated cruise.

Domnica Cemortan says that although she had a serious “crush” on Francesco Schettino, she was never “in love” with him and their affair never really got started.

She admits that her luggage had been left in the captain’s cabin, but says it was only a temporary arrangement while she waited for a cabin to become available.

Domnica Cemortan has given her own eyewitness account of what happened on the bridge of the vessel in the minutes before it ran aground with more than 4,000 people on board.

Swathed in black fur against the biting cold and with her face devoid of make-up, Domnica Cemortan appears even more youthful than she actually is.

Domnica Cemortan says: “So much rubbish has been written about me that I think I must now defend my reputation. They are acting as if I’m some sort of femme fatale, but I don’t sleep around.

“Yes, I was very attracted to Captain Schettino and he was clearly interested in me. I admit that I had a big crush on him because he was very good-looking and very charming.”

She adds: “He once told me that I had both beauty and brains. What woman would not want to hear such words – especially when there were many women much more beautiful than me on board the ship? I knew he liked me and I was very flattered by his attention.

“When I worked on the ship he had made it clear that he thought me special. I’m a woman and I know these things. I could tell by the way he laughed at my jokes and how he looked at me; there was always a twinkle in his eyes when we spoke.

“I admit that I was attracted to him, but honestly, we did not have sex.

“He was always respectful when I was a member of his staff, but once I was a passenger then it was different. I think we probably would have ended up in bed, eventually, but I never found out because of the crash.

“Of course, I’m very sorry that so many people died or were hurt that night. It was a tragic accident and people are looking to find someone to blame. Maybe there was human error, maybe the captain was in some way responsible; I don’t know. For me, it was more a case of being in the wrong place at the wrong time.”

This is the second time that an ocean tragedy has wrecked Domnica Cemortan’s life. She was only eight when her father drowned while swimming in the Black Sea during a family holiday in Ukraine. A relative has suggested that Francesco Schettino’s resemblance to her late father may have been part of his attraction.

Domnica Cemortan grew up with her older brother and their mother Vera, a doctor, in Chisinau, the capital of Moldova. She trained as a dancer, winning scholarships to study first in Romania and then France, where she lived from 2006 to 2009. She stopped performing because of injuries.

Domnica Cemortan’s daughter, the result of a long-term relationship with a fellow Moldovan, was born in Paris in January 2010.

By the end of 2010, Domnica Cemortan and her daughter were living back in her home country.

“I was a single mother and I decided it was best to get back out to work,” she says.

“A friend who worked for the cruise company saw a vacancy and told me about it.

“I speak four languages, so I applied and got the job as an international hostess for Russian passengers on the Costa Magica cruise ship, sailing around the Mediterranean.”

Domnica Cemortan’s initial contract was for October to December 2011. Then on December 6 she was asked to cover for a colleague on the Costa Concordia, the Costa Magica’s sister ship. Although she says the Costa Concordia’s dashing captain barely noticed her at first, it is clear from a photograph taken of them in a restaurant on the Cote d’Azur on December 13, which was published in Italian magazine Chi, that she was already smitten.

Although Domnica Cemortan says Francesco Schettino barely noticed her at first, it is clear from a photograph taken of them in a restaurant on the Cote d’Azur on December 13, which was published in Italian magazine Chi, that she was already smitten

Although Domnica Cemortan says Francesco Schettino barely noticed her at first, it is clear from a photograph taken of them in a restaurant on the Cote d’Azur on December 13, which was published in Italian magazine Chi, that she was already smitten

The woman says: “Once or twice he bought me a drink in the ship’s bar, but it was always in a group situation. It was the same when we went for a seafood dinner at Villefranche-sur-Mer on the Cote d’Azur in December. There was a big party of us and I was not the only one who had a photo taken with him.”

Domnica Cemortan has admitted that by her second week on the ship, colleagues were teasing her about the “spark” they noticed between her and the captain but she denies that they ever “crossed the line”.

Domnica Cemortan says: “He offered me a drink one night when I was in one of the lounges with a friend and on at least another occasion. But the only time we were alone on that trip was once in his office, when I went to give him a report. He told me that I was not only beautiful, but smart as well. It was a nice feeling, but neither of us did anything wrong.”

It is difficult to believe that a man of the world such as Francesco Schettino, who some former colleagues claim has an eye for the ladies, would not have acted on his attraction. It’s also hard to believe Domnica Cemortan’s claim that he knew nothing about her decision to buy a ticket for a cruise on the ship, after her three weeks’ work ended.

Domnica Cemortan was given a 50% discount, even though she had not officially been with the company long enough to qualify for the staff’s cheap rates, and boarded the ship at 5:00 p.m. on the day of the tragedy in the Italian port of Civitavecchia.

She says: “I don’t think he knew I was coming back because I didn’t tell anyone except the entertainment director, who was my immediate boss. Because of the discount I was able to find out which cabin I had only once we had set sail. So the first thing I did was call my boss, who said that he was in the captain’s office and I should come up.

“When I arrived, the captain looked surprised to see me. My boss said I still had to wait for a cabin and the captain said that I could leave my luggage in his cabin. I then went to see my friends on board. When I called my boss later, he suggested I should go to the restaurant at 9:00 p.m. to get a cabin key.”

During the interview Domnica Cemortan produced the card key for the cabin she had been allocated.

She initially denies a passenger’s account that she was dining with Francesco Schettino in the last hours before the crash.

“How does this person know it was me? They have some grainy picture of a woman, but it could have been anyone,” she says.

Then Domnica Cemortan offers a sanitized version of being with Francesco Schettino in his cabin before dinner.

“After saying hello to my friends on the ship I returned to change for dinner at about 8:00 p.m. – that was the practice when I was a part of the crew. The captain was there but he politely left me to change.

“He came back in as I was leaving and said that I looked stunning. He took my hand and kissed it.”

Domnica Cemortan coyly admits that he had grasped her in a passionate embrace and, to her surprise, kissed her hard on the mouth. But she insists the intimacy stopped there.

“I didn’t want people to know this because they might get the wrong idea,” Domnica Cemortan explains, then refuses to say any more about the incident.

As for dining with the captain, she says she joined Francesco Schettino and her (male) boss only for dessert and coffee.

Domnica Cemortan says: “Afterwards, the captain invited me to the bridge, to <<see a beautiful panorama of the island>> and we left the restaurant at about 9:30 p.m.” The island was Giglio, off the Tuscan coast, and tragedy was about to unfold.

It is clear that Francesco Schettino was enthralled by the vivacious young woman and she was equally smitten. Did the excitement affect his judgment? Domnica Cemortan says it did not. She watched the drama from a corner of the bridge.

“I was there for about ten minutes. I could see the lights of the island; I thought it was normal to go so close. The captain issued orders to about a dozen officers on the glass-fronted deck. They were speaking in Italian and marine terms, so I didn’t really understand.

“The crash happened about 15 seconds afterwards. It was all very sudden. There was no bang.

 “We didn’t feel the collision because we were at the front and it happened at the back. But the sirens came on and warning lights were flashing on the console and alarms blaring.

“It seemed as if they were in control, but there was a bit of rushing about and shouting. Other hostesses arrived on the bridge to make announcements in the different languages. It was a full-scale emergency, but we had all been well trained in preparation for such a disaster.”

Domnica Cemortan had been dining and flirting with Captain Francesco Schettino before the Costa Concordia disaster and was with him on the bridge when the ship struck rocks on January 13

Domnica Cemortan had been dining and flirting with Captain Francesco Schettino before the Costa Concordia disaster and was with him on the bridge when the ship struck rocks on January 13

No one could have expected the huge vessel to sink, in relatively shallow waters, off the island within hours of leaving port.

To compound matters, Francesco Schettino delayed ordering an evacuation of the 4,200 passengers and crew for about an hour. The death toll stands at 25, with seven people still unaccounted for.

Domnica Cemortan has defended Francesco Schettino from the outset and continues to do so. She argues that it would have taken time to ascertain the damage, which is why she didn’t make a dash for the lifeboats.

“The ship very quickly turned 60 degrees on its side and the sirens indicated that it was leaking, so I knew that I needed warm clothes,” Domnica Cemortan says.

The woman went into the captain’s cabin to change back into trousers, a jumper and jacket, grabbing her handbag along the way.

“When I returned to the bridge I saw the captain looking very much in control. I watched as the boat listed to one side. He asked me to stay because I speak four languages, while colleagues were told to get to their muster stations.

“At the end I saw the captain there with just two officers. He was co-ordinating the evacuation. Then he saw me and said I should go to deck three where people were getting into lifeboats. He said, <<Save yourself>>. I thought he looked very calm so it made me feel confident that it would be OK. I checked my watch and it was about 11:50 p.m. when I left him on the bridge.

“People say he’s a coward and that he didn’t act to save people, but it’s not true. He steered the ship into shallow water and made it easier for people to either swim or be rescued. I think he saved a lot of lives that night and was very courageous.”

Domnica Cemortan made her way gingerly down five decks on the listing vessel, in virtual darkness.

“If I didn’t know the ship I might never have made it.

“It was cold and I could hear things falling and people shouting. It was terrible. I think that some passengers got confused and maybe forgot where to go in an emergency.”

She waited about 15 minutes for a place in a lifeboat.

The next time Domnica Cemortan saw Francesco Schettino was about 5:00 a.m., on land.

“He looked absolutely shattered,” the woman says.

“Of course I felt sorry for him. He was always kind to me and I think he’s a good person.”

Domnica Cemortan and Francesco Schettino have not been in contact since the accident, though their names are now intrinsically entwined in a naval disaster that may have been the result of their attraction for each other, but she still seems to harbor deep affection for the captain.

“I would dearly love to speak with him again,” Domnica Cemortan says with a wistful smile.

“I want to know what went wrong and how he’s coping.

“It’s not that I miss him, but he was a nice man and I think they are making him into a kind of monster.

“Everyone is blaming him for what happened, but I don’t think he did anything wrong. It was just a terrible accident.”

 

Pictures of cruise ship rep Domnica Cemortan with her “lover” captain coward Francesco Schettino just a month before the Costa Concordia disaster have emerged this week.

Moldovan Domnica Cemortan , 24, and Francesco Schettino, 52, are pictured at a restaurant table groaning under the weight of fresh oysters and crabs during a stop over on a previous cruise – while his unsuspecting wife Fabiola, was at home with their teenage daughter.

Little more than four weeks after the photograph was taken the spineless skipper recklessly steered the Concordia onto rocks leaving 17 people dead with another 15 still missing – just so he could perform an island “sail by salute” and impress the Moldovan woman.

Captain Francesco Schettino is currently under house arrest while prosecutors investigate allegations of multiple manslaughter, causing a shipwreck and abandoning Costa Concordia when there were still 300 passengers on board who needed to be rescued.

Last week Domnica Cemortan told prosecutors during more than five hours of questioning that she was “in love” with Francesco Schettino and that she found him “charming and fascinating” and it has also emerged that her underwear and makeup was found in his cabin by police divers.

Investigators believe that Domnica Cemortan was among several “unauthorized” people who were on the bridge at the time Costa Concordia smashed into rocks off the Italian island of Giglio, tearing a 70 m hole in its hull, just two hours after starting a Mediterranean cruise on January 13.

Just a month earlier the couple had wined and dined in an upmarket seafood restaurant at Villafranche-sur-Mer on the French Riviera along with other crew members – who were all aware of how “close” the couple were.

Domnica Cemortan and Francesco Schettino pictured at a restaurant table groaning under the weight of fresh oysters and crabs during a stop over on a previous cruise

Domnica Cemortan and Francesco Schettino pictured at a restaurant table groaning under the weight of fresh oysters and crabs during a stop over on a previous cruise

The picture was published in Italian glossy weekly Chi which also featured several other pictures of Domnica Cemortan onboard Costa Concordia, arm in arm with crew members, in an evening gown and wearing 3D glasses in the liner’s cinema.

Witnesses have also reported seeing Domnica Cemortan and Francesco Schettino in “high spirits” in Costa Concordia’s Club restaurant just 30 minutes before the ship hit the rocks and they were seen leaving together and heading for the bridge.

During questioning by prosecutors at Grosseto Domnica Cemortan admitted she was on the bridge and told investigators how she had seen Francesco Schettino and the rest of the crew react in the minutes after the ship struck the rocks known as Le Scole – and which the captain claims were not on his navigation charts.

Domnica Cemortan told prosecutors: “I was on the bridge because I was in love with the captain. I found him charming and fascinating. I love him. I was on the bridge as his guest. It’s not right that his image is being destroyed.”

The Moldovan mother-of-one’s revelations came after several Costa Concordia crew members openly described her “close” relationship with Francesco Schettino on Facebook in the days after the disaster – although she had denied being his lover.

Domnica Cemortan had insisted the fact that Francesco Schettino, from Meta di Sorrento near Naples, always carried a photograph of his daughter with him and regularly showed it to crew was proof that he was “a man who was not having an affair”.

Following the tragedy Domnica Cemortan was one of the first off the ship and in an interview with a Moldovan TV station she praised him for his heroism and for saving the lives of hundreds of passengers and crew on Costa Concordia.

Meanwhile judges yesterday rejected a prosecution request to have Francesco Schettino sent back to jail – he is currently under house arrest and investigators feared he was liable to tamper with evidence and also try and escape the country but a court in Florence overturned the application.

Francesco Schettino’s lawyer Bruno Leporatti said: “We are satisfied with the result. The judicial system is working. The court applied the law without being influenced by public opinion. We are all now a lot more at ease.”

Bad weather is also continuing to hamper the search for victims and attempts to pump off more than 500,000 gallons of fuel from the ship’s tanks – Franco Gabrielli, the commissioner in charge of the rescue operation said he expected the ship to remain on rocks at Seagull point for “at least seven to ten months”.

Costa Cruises, the Italian company that owns the capsized cruise ship Costa Concordia has offered passengers 11,000 euros ($14,000; £9,000) each in compensation.

The deal comes after negotiations between Costa Cruises, and several Italian consumer groups.

Costa Cruises also promised to refund medical and transport expenses, as well as the cost of the cruise.

Costa Cruises, the Italian company that owns the capsized cruise ship Costa Concordia has offered passengers 11,000 euros ($14,000) each in compensation

Costa Cruises, the Italian company that owns the capsized cruise ship Costa Concordia has offered passengers 11,000 euros ($14,000) each in compensation

One consumer group, Codacons, has urged passengers not to accept the offer, Reuters news agency reports.

Will be back with further details.

Dramatic pictures, released this evening, show the aftermath of the Costa Concordia disaster as like a scene from the Titanic.

Lifeboats can be seen spilling from the sides of the ship into the gloomy waters off the island of Giglio as Costa Concordia cruise liner sinks into the sea.

Passengers can be clearly seen on the stardboard side waiting to climb aboard those lifeboats which haven’t already been deployed.

Holidaymakers, who moments earlier had been enjoying dinner on the luxury vessel, can also be seen making their way around the heavily-banking prow of the ship.

And the whole dramatic scene is lit up like a Hollywood movie by the many lights on the cruise ship, which would soon plunge into darkness as it sank into the water, claiming at least 16 lives.

Today, search efforts aboard the doomed liner continued, but an official overseeing the operation acknowledged for the first time that it would take a miracle to find any more survivors.

Like a Titanic scene, lifeboats can be seen spilling from the sides of the ship into the gloomy waters off the island of Giglio as Costa Concordia cruise liner sinks into the sea

Like a Titanic scene, lifeboats can be seen spilling from the sides of the ship into the gloomy waters off the island of Giglio as Costa Concordia cruise liner sinks into the sea

Franco Gabrielli, head of Italy’s national civil protection agency, said rescuers would keep searching the ship, which is half-submerged in the Tyrrhenian Sea off the island, until every reachable area is inspected.

“Finding someone alive today belongs in the realm of miracles,” Franco Gabrielli said.

“But since none of us, at least inside, wants to give up on that possibility, we will continue.”

Operations today saw search teams set off more explosions on the submerged third floor deck to allow easier access for divers.

Seventeen people are still unaccounted for, but the last person to be found alive was on January 15 when a senior crew member was discovered less than 36 hours after the grounding.

Costa Concordia ran aground after Captain Francesco Schettino veered from his approved course and gashed the ship’s hull on a reef, forcing the panicked evacuation of the 4,200 passengers and crew.

On Wednesday, the chief executive of Costa Crociere SpA, Pier Luigi Foschi, insisted that Francesco Schettino didn’t have approval to change the ship’s routing and was going far too fast to be so close to shore.

But he defended the practice of so-called “tourist navigation”, whereby enormous cruise ships steer close to shore to give passengers a look at the sites. Luigi Foschi said it was part of the “cruise product” that passengers demand and that cruise lines are forced to offer to stay competitive.

“It’s something that enriches the cruise product,” Luigi Foschi told a parliamentary committee.

“There are many components of the cruise product, and we have to do them like everyone else because we are in a global competition.”

Costa is owned by Miami-based Carnival Corp., the world’s largest cruise company.

Luigi Foschi stressed that such deviations from charted routes are supposed to follow strict protocols that ensure safety: ports are informed, the company is informed, and certainly no ship of the Costa Concordia’s size would be charging 200-300 yards (meters) off shore at 16 knots.

“For anyone who knows that zone, that ship with those characteristics shouldn’t have been there,” Luigi Foschi said.

Francesco Schettino is under house arrest, facing accusations of manslaughter, causing a shipwreck and abandoning a ship before all passengers were evacuated.

On Wednesday, Francesco Schettino’s lawyer filed a motion challenging the house arrest, saying the captain wasn’t a flight risk and asserting that there was no risk that he would repeat the crime since no cruise line would hire him, the ANSA news agency reported.

Italian media reported today that a mystery woman was on the bridge alongside cowardly captain Francesco Schettino when Costa Concordia cruise ship ran aground off Giglio island on Friday night.

The blonde woman is a 25-year-old Moldovan crew member who was not properly identified by investigators as she reportedly did not appear on any official manifest for the Costa Concordia.

The woman was identified as passenger rep Domnica Cemortan, possibly hired without a proper contract. Reports speculated she may have been on the bridge because Captain Francesco Schettino was trying to impress her.

Prosecutor Francesco Verusio had asked police to try and trace the woman, pictured on the doomed Costa Concordia just before it left Civitavecchia harbor on the evening it ran aground.

Domnica Cemortan is swiftly emerging as a key witness to the chain of events up until the liner struck an underwater reef just off the island of Giglio.

Witnesses have said that she appeared to know Francesco Schettino.

But a statement from Costa Cruises later confirmed Domnica Cemortan was an authorized passenger.

The statement said: “Costa Cruises would like to clarify that the law as it stands, safety regulations and the control systems applied meticulously by the company do not permit the embarkation of unregistered passengers.

“Based on the pictures broadcast by the media, the woman stated as being in the company of Captain Schettino on the evening of January 13th was certainly embarked on January 13th in Civitavecchia and duly registered.

“The company is ready to provide the authorities, when requested, with the identity of the person and the number of the ticket purchased.”

Investigators want to find out where Domnica Cemortan was at the moment the Costa Concordia hit the rocks.

Domnica Cemortan, from Chisnau, Moldova, was working as a passenger rep for Costa Cruises

Domnica Cemortan, from Chisnau, Moldova, was working as a passenger rep for Costa Cruises

There is also the possibility Domnica Cemortan would have key evidence on what happened in the moments after the fatal “sail by” which was apparently carried out by Francesco Schettino as a “salute” to a former captain.

It is believed that Domnica Cemortan, from Chisnau, Moldova, was working as a passenger rep for Costa Cruises and gave a brief interview to the media defending Francesco Schettino, adding that his actions had helped save the lives of holidaymakers and crew.

Domnica Cemortan has also said in an interview on Moldovan TV that she did have dinner with the captain, but that she went to the bridge after the impact to give instructions to Russian speaking passengers.

Italian newspapers suggested that she was the blonde woman seen dining with Francesco Schettino at around 9:00 p.m. – just under 30 minutes before the disaster – but there is also the possibility she may have been the guest of another officer on the liner.

Last night in a bizarre twist a male passenger had to be taken off the Costa Concordia’s sister ship Serena after suffering a heart attack as the liner sailed past Giglio at the start of a seven-day cruise.

Searching has resumed on the stricken vessel with divers focusing primarily on the stern by the deck four restaurant muster station, where the majority of the 21 people still listed as missing were thought to be.

Rescue teams have found five more bodies inside the Italian Costa Concordia stricken cruise ship, raising the confirmed death toll to 11.

According to officials, four men and a woman were found on the ship, which capsized after it hit rocks in Ialy on Friday.

Judges are questioning the ship’s captain, Francesco Schettino, who has been blamed for steering the vessel on to the rocks.

Captain Francesco Schettino has been detained on suspicion of manslaughter, but denies any wrongdoing.

He has not yet been formally charged, but prosecutors on Tuesday asked judges to continue his detention.

Rescue teams have found five more bodies inside the Italian Costa Concordia stricken cruise ship, raising the confirmed death toll to 11

Rescue teams have found five more bodies inside the Italian Costa Concordia stricken cruise ship, raising the confirmed death toll to 11

A recording of a conversation allegedly between the captain and a port official – recorded shortly after the crash – has emerged which suggests Captain Francesco Schettino left the ship before all passengers had escaped.

In the recording, on the Corriere della Sera’s website, Captain Francesco Schettino appears to refuse to go back on to the ship to co-ordinate the rescue effort.

A man who identifies himself as Livorno Port Authority chief Gregorio de Falco can be heard repeatedly telling the captain to get back on board the ship to help the stranded passengers.

“Schettino, maybe you saved yourself from the sea, but I’ll make you have trouble for sure. Go aboard,” says Gregorio de Falco.

Captain Francesco Schettino is heard replying first that there are rescuers already on board, and then that it is dark and difficult to see.

Shortly after daybreak on Tuesday rescue crews blasted several holes in the ship, now lying on its side metres from Giglio island, in order to gain access to areas they had not yet been able to search.

Hours later, the coast guard announced that more bodies had been found.

It is not clear whether the bodies are crew members or passengers, but the coast guard said they were aged between 50 and 60 and were wearing life vests.

The bodies were found near one of the assembly points where people were told to gather in an emergency.

Before the bodies were discovered, Italian officials said there were 29 people still missing from the vessel.

Teams of specialist divers have been helping with the rescue mission, but they have been hampered by bad weather.

The ship, carrying 4,200 passengers and crew, had its hull ripped open when it hit rocks late on Friday, just hours after leaving the port of Civitavecchia for a week-long Mediterranean cruise.

Some people were forced to swim for shore as the angle of the ship made launching lifeboats impossible.

Infrared footage taken from a helicopter, also released on Tuesday, shows lines of people climbing ropes down the exposed hull of the vessel to reach rescue boats on the water.

Francesco Schettino, 52, has emerged as the central figure in the investigation.

The Costa Concordia’s owners, Costa Cruises, have said Captain Francesco Schettino hit the rocks because he deliberately steered the ship towards Giglio Island.

Prosecutors have given more detail, saying the captain wanted to make a close pass of Giglio in order to “salute” a crew member’s family who lived there.

On Monday, the shipping newspaper Lloyd’s List said it had been able to trace the course of the Costa Concordia though information from satellites.

Lloyd’s List issued a graphic comparing Friday’s sailing with an earlier sailing by the vessel, suggesting that Friday’s route had deviated far from its usual course.

Francesco Schettino, the Costa Concordia’s captain did abandon ship “half an hour” before hundreds of his passengers, it emerged this morning via a transcript of a conversation between him and the local coastguard.

Captain Francesco Schettino, 52, who will be questioned today by investigating magistrate Valeria Montesarchio, lied to the Captain of the Port of Livorno’s Coastguard when asked how many people were on board the sinking liner, Italian media reported today.

Francesco Schettino initially replied “40”, when there were actually hundreds still at risk, and when further questioned admitted he was not even there.

The Costa Concordia captain then ignored an order to go back onto the sinking ship – with some reports suggesting he volunteered to return, but only to pick up the black box.

Il Fatto Quotidiano published the transcripts of the conversation which purportedly took place on Friday night.

The first call to the boat took place at 9:49 p.m., where the coastguard asked what the situation was. The boat had run aground some 30 minutes before.

They did not speak again until 0:42 a.m., just 40 minutes after the evacuation started, when Francesco Schettino was asked how many people were on board.

He replied “40”. The coastguard, surprised, asked how there were so few people left on board, and francesco Schettino replied: “I’m not on board because we have abandoned the ship.”

The coastguard asked him to return to the ship to co-ordinate the evacuation.

At 1:46 a.m., Francesco Schettino received another call. The speaker said: “You will return to the boat immediately. You have to tell me how many passengers are left.”

Confusingly, Francesco Schettino replied: “I’m on board, but I’m here.” The coastguard, who Italian media says understood he had no intention of returning, issued an ultimatum:

“Captain, this is an order. I am in charge now. There are dead bodies.”

The publication of the transcript comes as Francesco Schettino was labeled the “most hated man in Italy”.

And it precedes the revelation, from a survivor, that men pushed past children who were screaming “I don’t want to die” as the young and elderly were “abandoned by the crew”.

A state of emergency has been declared around the stricken Costa Concordia after an unidentified liquid began to leak from the ship

A state of emergency has been declared around the stricken Costa Concordia after an unidentified liquid began to leak from the ship

Captain Francesco Schettino, who lives with wife Fabiola and their 15-year-old daughter at a $275,000 apartment in the small seaside town of Meta di Sorrento near Naples, is at the centre of a Facebook hate campaign after being squarely blamed for the cruise liner running aground.

Thousands have taken to the web to vent their fury at the so-called “Captain Coward”, who it is now claimed “skimmed” past the Tuscan isle of Giglio not just to salute a retired officer but also to impress his head waiter’s family on shore.

Many scorned his decision not to remain with his stricken ship. The official death toll rose to seven this morning after another body was pulled from the tilting wreckage. Last night the number of those still unaccounted for rose to 29 – 25 passengers and four crew.

Francesco Schettino, who faces up to 12 years in jail for manslaughter, will appear in court today after his company chiefs accused him of an “unauthorised and unapproved” decision to sail so close to the eastern side of the island of Giglio.

Costa Concordia, the $600million liner, with 4,200 passengers and crew, was sailing just 300 yards from the island’s rocky coast when it should have been at least four miles out to sea. It came to grief on Friday night after sustaining a 160ft gash in the port-side hull.

After swiftly escaping from the listing liner, Francesco Schettino was arrested along with first officer Ciro Ambrosio.

Captain Francesco Schettino was spotted wrapped in a blanket on his way to the shore at around 11:30 p.m. – more than four hours before the evacuation of the vessel was completed – and breaking the maritime tradition of remaining with his ship.

One Italian report said Francesco Schettino hailed a taxi and said to the driver: “Get me as far away from here as possible.”

Tuscan prosecutor Franco Verusio, who is leading the investigation, said: “Captain Schettino was in command. He was the one who ordered that course to be taken, at least according to what we have discovered. There was someone in particular that wanted to be signaled from the ship.”

Francesco Schettino gave the order for the doomed sail-by of the island as a “salute of respect” for former Costa commander Mario Palombo, whose parents are from Giglio, it is alleged.

The stunt – as passengers were enjoying dinner at 9:30 p.m. on Friday – was apparently also a favour for the ship’s maître d’ Antonello Tievoli, who lives on the island.

Italian news reports said that that minutes before Costa Concordia crashed into an underwater reef just two hours into a seven-day Mediterranean cruise, Francesco Schettino told the head waiter: “Come and look, we are passing over your Giglio.”

After his rescue, Antonello Tievoli is understood to have joked: “I never thought I would get dropped off at home.”

His 82-year-old father Giuseppe said his son had phoned him before the accident to say the crew would salute him by blowing the ship’s whistle as they passed by.

Giuseppe Tievoli said: “Antonello called and said that we should look out of the window at around 9:30 p.m. because he would be on the ship and it would pass right by Giglio. All the ships do it but they never come that close – I was at the window with my wife and, as he said, the ship went past.”

Antonello Tievoli’s sister Patrizia, a teacher on the island, made a Facebook post 30 minutes before the disaster saying: “Shortly, the Costa Concordia will pass really, really close, a big hello to my brother who will disembark at Savona and finally get to enjoy some holiday.”

Antonello Tievoli, 46, has already been questioned by investigators while Mario Palombo, who retired in 2006 because of ill health, is also expected to be interviewed.

Mario Palombo last night insisted the “nautical bow” was not meant for him as he was not on the island at the time.

“I have gone to the prosecutor’s office after I was dragged into all this. I’ve been made to feel responsible.”

The stunt of sailing past the island is said to have become something of a tradition for Costa Concordia. In August, it skirted Giglio sounding its whistle – prompting the mayor to send a congratulatory email to the captain for providing such a “spectacle to tourists”.

A state of emergency has been declared around the stricken vessel after an unidentified liquid began to leak from the ship. Protective barriers have been put in place around the Costa Concordia.

Speaking to Sky News, Giglio mayor Sergio Ortelli said: “This is an ecological timebomb.

“I hope that the fuel can be taken off the ship soon and maybe the ship can be removed too because it is hampering navigation.”

Francesco Schettino has also been accused of dining with beautiful women as the liner crashed into rocks and of raiding the safe before jumping ship.

Monique Maurek, 41, from the Netherlands, said: “What scandalized me most was when I saw the captain spending much of the evening before we hit the rocks drinking in the bar with a beautiful woman on his arm.

“Most people didn’t even have any idea of what the evacuation warning sound would be. It was only because some of us had already been on a cruise that we recognized that seven blasts of the horn was a signal to abandon ship.”

Francesco Schettino told maritime investigators that charts showed he was in water deep enough to navigate and that he had struck an unidentified rocky outcrop of the island.

Once Francesco Schettino realized the extent of the damage he immediately tried to change route and head for the safety of Giglio harbour.

His lawyer, Bruno Leporatti, said Francesco Schettino was “overcome and wants to express his greatest condolences to the victims”.

But he said Francesco Schettino’s actions in anchoring the ship at one end to swing it closer to the shore after the collision, “saved the lives of thousands of people”.

“It could have been an enormous tragedy,” Bruno Leporatti added.

Costa Crociere chairman and CEO Pier Luigi Foschi told reporters the liner had passed all safety and technical tests in its 2011 evaluation.

Explaining that the ship was “ultra safe”, Luigi Foschi said the captain had made an unauthorized and unapproved deviation from the ship’s programmed course.

Luigi Foschi said: “This route was put in correctly. The fact that it left from this course is due solely to a manoeuvre by the commander that was unapproved, unauthorized and unknown to Costa.”

Costa Crociere CEO added that the company’s main concern was the safety and well-being of the passengers and crew, as well as to ensure fuel doesn’t leak out from the upended hull into the pristine waters off the island of Giglio.

Costa Crociere is a subsidiary of Carnival Cruise lines.

Carnival PLC, the owner of the capsized boat, saw its share price plummet by around a fifth.

Fears are growing for the 29 people now listed as missing after the Costa Concordia crashed into rocks off Italy’s west coast on Friday night.

Emergency crews have worked through the night at the wreck of a stricken cruise ship.

Six people are known to have died in the disaster up to now.

Local coast guard chief Marco Brusco said there was just a “glimmer of hope” that survivors could be found.

The ship’s owners have blamed Captain Francesco Schettino for Friday’s crash, saying he changed course towards an island.

Captain Francesco Schettino, 52, has been detained on suspicion of manslaughter and a judge is due to decide shortly whether he should remain in custody.

Italy says it will declare a state of emergency over the incident, and provide funding to help avert any environmental disaster.

The Italian environment minister said liquid was leaking from the ship, but it was unclear if it was fuel.

Fears are growing for the 29 people now listed as missing after the Costa Concordia crashed into rocks off Italy's west coast on Friday night

Fears are growing for the 29 people now listed as missing after the Costa Concordia crashed into rocks off Italy's west coast on Friday night

Meanwhile, Italian officials have denied a newspaper report that a seventh body had been found overnight on the vessel.

Italian Coast Guard officials said the number of people believed to be missing had jumped to 29 from the previous estimate of 16, but gave no reason for the change.

The missing are thought to include four crew members, as well as passengers from the US, Germany, France and Italy.

On Monday, the Costa Concordia’s owners, Costa Cruises, said Captain Francesco Schettino hit the rocks because he deliberately steered the ship towards to Giglio Island.

Prosecutors also claim that Francesco Schettino was responsible for the disaster.

“The captain is in a very difficult position because we are sure enough that he abandoned the ship when many passengers were still waiting to be evacuated,” said prosecutor Francesco Verusio.

A transcript purportedly of conversations between the captain and the coastguard has emerged in the Italian media – apparently drawn from one of the ship’s black box recorders – which appears to corroborate the claims that the captain left the ship before all the passengers escaped.

Capt Francesco Schettino has denied wrongdoing and says the rocks were not on his charts. He has insisted that he and his crew were the last people to leave the vessel.

His lawyer, Bruno Leporatti, said his client was “overcome and wants to express his greatest condolences to the victims”, adding that the captain had carried out a dangerous manoeuvre that had actually saved lives.

Costa Concordia, carrying 4,200 passengers and crew, had its hull ripped through when it hit rocks late on Friday.

Some people were forced to swim for land as the angle of the ship made boarding lifeboats impossible.

German media have reported that 12 German passengers are still missing, and US officials have appealed for information about two Americans – Jerry Heil, 69, and his wife Barbara, 70, from White Bear Lake, Minnesota.

Six Italians, two French couples and a Peruvian are also reported to be unaccounted for.

Teams of specialist divers have been helping with the rescue mission, but they have been hampered by bad weather, which has been moving the ship in the water.

Saturnino Soria, father of Peruvian Erika Soria, who was working as a waitress on the ship, insisted that the search operation should continue.

“I haven’t received any precise information about her – nothing from yesterday or today – it seems the situation has become worse for my daughter,” he said.

Rodolfo Raiteri, head of the coastguard’s diving team, was quoted by news agency AFP as saying that conditions inside the vessel were “disastrous”.

“It’s very difficult. The corridors are cluttered and it’s hard for the divers to swim through,” he said.

But the local mayor voiced hope of finding more people alive.

“You never know in the labyrinth of that ship. An air pocket could have allowed people to survive a few days,” Sergio Ortelli was quoted by AFP as saying.

Meanwhile, the shipping newspaper Lloyd’s List said it had been able to trace the course of the Costa Concordia though information from satellites.

The paper issued a graphic comparing Friday’s sailing with an earlier sailing by the liner, suggesting that Friday’s route had deviated far from its usual course.

Worries are growing that the ship could cause an environmental disaster if it breaks up and sheds its fuel.

Costa Concordia had just left the port of Civitavecchia, north of Rome, carrying roughly 2,300 tons of fuel for a week-long Mediterranean cruise when it crashed.

The area where the ship capsized is a maritime park famous for its pristine waters, varied marine life and coral.

Italian Environment Minister Corrado Clini said there was evidence that liquid was leaking from the ship, but he could not confirm whether the fluid was fuel.

Corrado Clini said the government would declare a state of emergency to release extra funding to help avoid a fuel spill causing an environmental disaster.