January 21, 2012 at 9:28 PM CST - Updated June 26 at 8:33 AM
GIGLIO, Italy (AP) — Divers plumbing the capsized Costa Concordia's murky depths pulled out the body of a woman in a life vest Saturday, while scuba-diving police swam through the captain's cabin to retrieve a safe and documents belonging to the man who abandoned the cruise liner after it was gashed by a rocky reef on the Tuscan coast.
Hoping for a miracle — or at least for the recovery of bodies from the ship that has become an underwater tomb — relatives of some of the 20 missing appealed to survivors of the Jan. 13 shipwreck to offer details that could help divers reach loved ones while it is still possible to search the luxury liner. The clock is ticking because the craft is perched precariously on a rocky ledge of seabed near Giglio island.
"We are asking the 4,000 persons who were on board to give any information they can about any of the persons still missing," said Alain Litzler, a Frenchman who is the father of missing passenger Mylene Litzler. "We need precise information to help the search and rescue teams find them."
The death toll rose to at least 12 Saturday after a water-logged body was extracted from a passageway near a gathering point for evacuation by lifeboats in the rear of the vessel, Coast Guard Cmdr. Filippo Marini said. It was not immediately clear if the woman was a passenger or crew member. A female Peruvian bartender and several adult female passengers were among the 21 people listed as missing before the latest corpse was found.
Relatives of the bartender and of an Indian crewman, along with two children of an elderly couple from Minnesota who are among the missing, boarded a boat Saturday to view the wrecked Concordia Saturday, said a maritime official, Fabrizio Palombo.
Family members tossed flowers near the site while islanders standing on the rocky edge of the island also strew bouquets on the water in a tribute to the victims.
Another Coast Guard official, Cosimo Nicastro, said the woman's body was found during a particularly risky inspection.
"The corridor was very narrow, and the divers' lines risked snagging" on furniture and objects floating in the passageway, Nicastro said. To help the coast guard divers reach the area, Italian navy divers had preceded them, setting off charges to blast holes for easier entrance and exit.
Meanwhile, police divers, carrying out orders from prosecutors investigating Captain Francesco Schettino for suspected manslaughter and abandoning the ship, swam through the cold, dark waters to reach his cabin. State TV and the Italian news agency ANSA reported that the divers located and remove his safe and two suitcases. His passport and several documents were also pulled out, state media said.
Searchers inspecting the bridge Saturday also found a hard disk containing data of the voyage, Sky TG24 TV reported.
Three bodies were found in waters around the ship in the first hours after the accident. Since then, divers have gone inside the Concordia to recover all the reamining victims, who were apparently unable to escape the lurching ship during a chaotic evacuation launched almost an hour after the liner hit a reef.
Some survivors who couldn't board lifeboats waited for hours aboard the capsizing craft for rescue by helicopters while others jumped into the water and swam to safety.
The last survivor, found aboard 36 hours after the crash, was an Italian crewman who broke his leg in the confusion and couldn't leave the ship.
The Concordia hit the reef, well-marked on maritime and even tourist maps, while most of the passengers sat down to dinner in the main restaurant, about two hours after the ship had set sail from the port of Civitavecchia on the Tyrrhenian Sea.
Costa Crociere, the ship's operator and subsidiary of U.S.-based Carnival Cruise Lines, has said the captain had deviated without permission from the vessel's route in an apparent maneuver to sail close to the island of Giglio and impress passengers.
Schettino, despite audiotapes of his defying Coast Guard orders to scramble back aboard, has denied he abandoned ship while hundreds of passengers were desperately trying to get off the capsizing vessel. He hs said he coordinated the rescue from aboard a lifeboat and then from the shore.
The effort to find survivors and bodies has postponed an operation to remove heavy fuel in the Concordia's tanks; specialized equipment has been standing by for days.
Light fuel, apparently from machinery aboard the capsized ship, was spotted in nearby waters, authorities said Saturday.
But Nicastro said there was no indication that any of the nearly 500,000 gallons (2,200 metric tons) of heavy fuel oil has leaked from the ship's double-bottomed tanks, seen as a risk if the ship's position changes. He said the leaked substance appears to be diesel, which is used to fuel rescue boats and dinghies and as a lubricant for ship machinery.
There are 185 tons of diesel and lubricants on board the crippled vessel, which is lying on its side just outside Giglio's port. Nicastro described the fuel in the sea as "very light, very superficial" and appearing to be under control.
But an official leading rescue, search and anti-pollution efforts for the ship suggested that the luxury liner would have leaked contaminants on board when it tipped over.
"We must not forget that on that ship there are oils, solvents, detergents, everything that a city of 4,000 people needs," Franco Gabrielli, the head of Italy's civil protection agency, told reporters in Giglio.
Gabrielli was referring to the roughly 3,200 passengers and 1,000 crew who were aboard the cruise liner when it ran into the reef and, with seawater rushing into a 230-foot (70-meter) gash in its hull, listed and fell onto its side. "Contamination of the environment, ladies and gentlemen, already occurred" when the liner capsized, Gabrelli said.
Vessels equipped with machinery to suck out the light fuel oil were in the area. Earlier on Saturday, crews removed oil-absorbing booms used to prevent environmental damage in case of a leak. Originally white, the booms were grayish.
Schettino, is under house arrest for investigation of alleged manslaughter, causing a shipwreck and abandoning the ship before all were evacuated.
The search had been suspended Friday after the Concordia shifted, prompting fears the ship could roll off a rocky ledge of sea bed and plunge deeper into the pristine waters around Giglio, part of a seven-island Tuscan archipelago.
D'Emilio reported from Rome. Colleen Barry contributed from Milan and Andrea Foa from Giglio.