Search suspended after stricken Italian cruise ship moves

Giglio, Italy (CNN) — With bitterly cold temperatures and frigid waters, the chances of finding more survivors of the doomed Costa Concordia appeared to dim Wednesday.

At least 11 people have died since the cruise liner ran aground and capsized last week off a Tuscan island. About two dozen are missing.

Rescue crews suspended operations Wednesday morning as the ship began to move, the Italian coast guard said. The search for survivors has been halted and restarted several times since the ship rolled onto its side Friday night.

Rescuers were planning to blast more holes in the ship Wednesday to allow divers easier access to the interior of the ship.

But experts say their chances of finding survivors are slim.

“I think you have to look at several issues. One is just the hypothermia. If a compartment is flooded, even if there was air, at this point, most of them would have succumbed to the hypothermic problem of the water temperature,” said Butch Hendrick, president of the diving safety company Lifeguard Systems.

When asked if rescuers would find any survivors, Hendrick said, “I’m sorry to say this, but I don’t — I don’t believe there are. I’m sorry.”

But Kevin Rebello, whose brother Russel was a member of the crew, refused to give up hope Wednesday.

“Miracles do happen and let’s keep hope. I’m not here to lose hope,” he said.

His brother was last seen helping passengers into lifeboats Friday night.

Questions remain over what happened in the waters around the island of Giglio, and especially the actions of Capt. Francesco Schettino.

Prosecutor Francesco Verusio accused the captain of piloting the ship too fast to allow him to react to dangers, causing the shipwreck, according to legal papers.

Judge Valeria Montesarchio’s intial ruling says Schettino changed the ship’s course, steering too close to shore and causing the ship to hit a rock.

Schettino, who may be charged with manslaughter, shipwreck and abandoning ship, was transferred to house arrest overnight, his lawyer Bruno Leporatti said early Wednesday.

Montesarchio justified the decision on the grounds that the captain was not a flight risk and there was no danger of his interfering with evidence or committing the crime again.

Verusio said later that he cannot understand why the captain has been allowed house arrest, and that he may appeal the judge’s decision.

Schettino was arrested after leaving the ship while dozens were still aboard, panicked and fighting for lifeboats.

“I am absolutely shocked. Shocked at his behavior,” said passenger Alex Beach of New Mexico, who escaped the crippled cruise ship with her husband. “As a passenger that was relying on him and the rest of his upper officers to steer this ship, it’s quite alarming.”

The shipping industry newspaper Lloyd’s List reported that Friday was not the first time the Costa Concordia steamed extremely close to shore near Giglio.

Satellite tracking data obtained by the paper show that the ship passed within 230 meters (755 feet) of the coast of the island at least once before — even closer than the location where the Costa Concordia hit the rocks this weekend.

The pass happened on August 14, 2011, Lloyd’s List reported.

Costa Cruise lines said it would issue a statement about the report later on Wednesday.

In transcripts of conversations between Schettino and the Italian coast guard, published by the Italian daily newspaper Corriere della Sera, the captain gives conflicting accounts of what happened when the ship hit rocks Friday night just off Italy’s western coast, leading to what passengers described as a chaotic and surreal scene as they rushed to evacuate.

At first, Schettino tells an official he had abandoned the vessel, according to the transcripts, which prosecutors say match those used in their investigation.

But as the official questions his decision, Schettino appears to reverse himself and say he had not abandoned ship but was “catapulted into the water” after the ship ran into a rock, began taking on water and started listing.

In a later conversation, an Italian coast guard official demands Schettino return to his ship, the transcripts show.

“You get on board! This is an order!” the coast guard official instructed Schettino.

“You have declared ‘Abandon ship.’ Now I’m in charge. You get on board — is that clear?” the port official said.

Rescuers found five bodies Tuesday, but it was unclear how many people are missing. There were roughly 4,200 people on the Costa Concordia when it ran aground — about 3,200 passengers and 1,000 crew members, the vast majority of whom made it off the ship safely.

Before the discovery of the five bodies Tuesday, authorities had said 29 people were missing; 14 Germans, six Italians, four French citizens, two Americans, and one each from Hungary, India and Peru. There was some confusion Tuesday on the number of missing Germans, according to the German Foreign Ministry.

One person on the list of missing was found dead Monday, but authorities have not specified the nationality.

A friend of two missing Americans, Gerald and Barbara Ann Heil of White Bear Lake, Minnesota, said their family is “holding up very well” despite the agonizing wait for word from Italy, where the retired couple had gone for “their trip of a lifetime” after raising four children and working in their community for years.

St. Pius X Catholic Church will hold a Wednesday evening prayer service for the couple, according to CNN affiliate KARE. The Heils were on a 16-day vacation to Italy, with a planned visit to the Vatican.

Italian prosecutors have ruled out a technical error as the cause of the incident, saying the captain was on the bridge at the time and had made a “grave error.”

Prosecutors are considering whether others may share responsibility for the crash with the captain.

Schettino had never been involved in an accident before, said Costa Cruises chairman Pier Luigi Foschi.

Foschi placed blame for the wreck squarely on the captain, saying he deviated from frequently traveled routes.

“The captain decided to change the route and he went into water that he did not know in advance,” Foschi said.

Foschi said passengers would get “material compensation for their loss,” but declined to go into details.