For Susy Albertini, the wait for her five-year-old daughter Dayana is finally over. Sadly, it did not turn out the way she’d hoped. Wednesday morning, Italian emergency workers searching the wreckage of the Costa Concordia--the cruise liner that crashed off the Tuscan island of Giglio on January 13--found the remains of Albertini’s beloved daughter and seven other people trapped in the submerged section of the ship’s lifeboat deck. When inclement weather forced workers to suspend the sub-aquatic search for victims January 31, Albertini was still waiting on Giglio. She pleaded with workers to let her on the ship. “Let me onboard to find my daughter,” the distraught mother said. “She will answer when I call her.”
The discovery of the latest victims brings to 25 the total confirmed dead from the fatal shipwreck. Seven are still missing. Americans Gerry and Barbara Heil from Minnesota are among the missing, but authorities have not yet positively identified any of the victims found Wednesday except the young girl. Relying on information garnered from thousands of surviving passengers interviewed during the investigatory phase of the criminal manslaughter and shipwreck case against the ship’s captain, Francesco Schettino and seven other who now also face similar charges, emergency workers were also able to determine that many passengers were waiting for lifeboats on the ships third and fourth decks.
But these decks, near the top of the 17-story ship, have been nearly impossible to access. Not only are they now submerged at the very bottom of the 140,000 tonne wreckage, the decks are also smashed into rocks now cracking under the ship’s immense weight. A recent video shows clean breaks in the rocks that are widening under the ship’s massive weight.
Families of some of the missing are now wondering if the suspension of the search for survivors was not due to weather alone, but also to allow the salvage crews to begin the delicate process of defueling the ship. The Costa Concordia was carrying 500,000 gallons of gas and oil when it hit the rocks off Giglio. Defueling efforts began the first week of February, with the first phase completed on February 20, the day the search for victims resumed. During the first phase, almost two-thirds of the fuel was extracted from the above-water tanks and taken back to the mainland. The fuel belongs to the Costa Crociere cruise company, which is paying for the salvage operation. A worker with the SMIT salvage company in charge of operations told The Daily Beast the fuel could easily be reused in other cruiseships. The next phase of the defueling process is far more delicate because it involves tapping the underwater tanks. It is expected to take three weeks to remove the remaining fuel from the ship, and only then can a different salvage crew, yet to be named, begin the process of removing the wreckage, which may take up to 10 months to complete.
Italy’s civil protection agency has always maintained that defueling operations and rescue efforts could be carried out in tandem, yet none of the dive team leaders agreed, which is why the underwater search was suspended when the defueling began and resumed only when it ended. Above the water level, fire fighters have continued to search the cabins, even pinpointing a stateroom by its room number and retrieving a teddy bear that a young Italian boy had left aboard the ship the night of the crash.
But divers were unable to continue the underwater search because the conditions had deteriorated and the risk involved with the dual operation was too great to send any divers down. The ships’ watertight doors had all been closed, blocking access to the divers and creating mini cesspools of stagnant water, chemicals and rotting food. Even the slightest shift of the gigantic ship could create a trap for divers. They have also had to don special sealed dive suits because of the high level of contamination in the sealed areas, and use cutting equipment to cut access holes into the area. They will focus on these two submerged decks until defueling begins again.
The last known survivors to leave the ship alive from Deck 4 have described watching the Costa Concordia sink to its final resting place. The lights went out and the water level rose as the ship made its final tip into the sea. Wednesday’s victims were found on the deck from which the last lifeboats left, meaning they were there in good faith, waiting in vain for someone to come back to get them.