NEW: A woman whose body was found Saturday was wearing a uniform, so may be crew
An operation to remove 2,400 tons of fuel from the liner's tanks is postponed
The search continues for those still missing since the ship ran aground two weeks ago
Passengers have been offered compensation but some have filed a lawsuit
A woman’s body was found Saturday in the wrecked Costa Concordia cruise ship, Italian officials said, taking the number of people confirmed dead to 17.
Rescuers have been searching the site since the massive liner struck rocks and rolled onto its side in shallow waters off an island on Italy’s Tuscan coast on January 13, leading to a panicked overnight evacuation. Fifteen people remain missing.
Efforts to remove 2,400 tons of fuel from the liner’s tanks have been postponed until at least Tuesday because of bad weather conditions, Italy’s civil protection agency said. The operation had been expected to begin Saturday or Sunday.
Francesca Maffini, a spokeswoman for the civil protection agency, said Saturday that 15 of the bodies found had been identified. The latest woman to be found was wearing a uniform, she said, suggesting she may have been a member of the ship’s 1,000-strong crew.
The discovery of the 17th body came a day after a handful of surviving passengers of the wrecked Costa Concordia cruise ship filed a lawsuit against the cruise line.
Earlier, Costa had announced it was offering each of about 3,200 passengers who’d been aboard the vessel a lump sum of 11,000 euros ($14,400), in compensation for their loss of property and emotional distress, as well as a refund of costs associated with the cruise.
Separate agreements will be reached with those passengers who were injured and needed treatment at the scene and with the families of those who died, Costa said.
The offer was announced following a meeting between Costa Cruises and consumer groups.
The lawsuit filed Friday asked for a jury trial and sought retribution from Costa Cruises, its parent company Carnival Cruise Lines and two “John Does.” The suit was filed in a court in southern Florida, where Carnival is headquartered.
It faults the cruise ship operators on several counts, including “maritime negligence,” “gross negligence,” “intentional infliction of emotional distress” and “negligent retention.”
Marc Bern, a senior partner with the New York-based law firm Napoli Bern Ripka Shkolnik that is among those behind the complaint, told CNN that his firm represents “hundreds” of passengers who were aboard the ship. He suggested that many of them could soon join his lawsuit’s six named plaintiffs.
The lawsuit filed Friday states the plaintiffs first contacted Italian consumer law group Codacons, which led to the creation of “an international legal collaboration … to vigorously advocate for passengers’ rights.”
The lawsuit requests “economic and compensatory damages in excess of $10 million for the six named plaintiffs (and) punitive damages, in an amount of at least $450 million.”
This is not the only legal action in this case, including in the United States.
Peruvian crew member Gary Lobaton filed a lawsuit, for one, on Thursday in an Illinois court, his lawyer Monica Kelly of Ribbeck Law told CNN by e-mail. Stating that she’s never met those behind Friday’s lawsuit, Kelly said “we will add more (plaintiffs) in the coming week.”
Bern, the New York lawyer tied to the lawsuit filed in Florida, called the compensation offer “an insult.”
Jesus Garcia Heredia, who was on the cruise with his wife, told CNN Friday that he would not accept the payout.
“If we can reach an agreement, I am willing to agree not to sue, no problem,” he said. “But not for 11,000 euros. I don’t accept this.”
Heredia said he had not yet been contacted by anyone in the company to talk about compensation.
“There was a lot of loss that day,” he said, referring to personal belongings and the emotional toll of the disaster. “We had it really bad there.”
Another passenger, Mark Plath, said he also wants to be compensated for the $6,000 worth of possessions he still has on the ship. He would like further compensation because he and his wife, Sarah, swam to shore.
“Also, I helped people quite a bit, to calm down on the boat, as well as leading them to shore and to cars awaiting above, quite a while later. My wife assisted a lady with blood all over her face (my wife is a nurse),” Plath wrote in an e-mail to CNN.
“I am not a fan of class-action lawsuits, but I think that Costa needs to take individual experiences and actions into account.”
Meanwhile, the captain of the Costa Concordia, Francesco Schettino, is under house arrest and faces possible charges of manslaughter, shipwreck and abandoning ship.
Schettino has admitted to prosecutors, defense attorneys and a judge that he made a “mistake” in colliding with the rocks off shore. But he has brushed aside suggestions that he was going too fast, as prosecutors allege.
Schettino said he ran the ship aground off Giglio island to keep it from sinking and limit the tilting.