POSTED: 4:11 a.m. HST, Jan 27, 2012
LAST UPDATED: 7:05 a.m. HST, Jan 27, 2012
ROME >> Costa Crociere SpA is offering uninjured passengers $14,460 apiece to compensate them for lost baggage and psychological trauma after its cruise ship ran aground and capsized off Tuscany when the captain deviated from his route.
Costa, a unit of the world's biggest cruise operator, the Miami-based Carnival Corp., also said it would reimburse passengers the full costs of their cruise, travel expenses and any medical expenses sustained after the grounding.
The agreement was announced Friday after negotiations between Costa representatives and Italian consumer groups who say they represent 3,206 cruise ship passengers from 61 countries who suffered no physical harm when the Costa Concordia hit a reef on Jan. 13.
The deal does not apply to the hundreds of crew on the ship, the roughly 100 cases of people injured or the families who lost loved ones.
Passengers are free to pursue legal action on their own if they aren't satisfied with the deal.
Some consumer groups have already signed on as injured parties in the criminal case against the Concordia's captain, Francesco Schettino, who is accused of manslaughter, causing a shipwreck and abandoning the ship before all passengers were evacuated. He is under house arrest.
In addition, Codacons, one of Italy's best known consumer groups, has engaged two U.S. law firms to launch a class-action lawsuit against Costa and Carnival in Miami, claiming that it expects to get anywhere from $164,000 to $1.3 million per passenger.
German attorney Hans Reinhardt, who currently represents 15 Germans who survived the accident and is in talks to represent families who lost loved ones, said he is advising his clients not to take the settlement.
Instead, he, like Codacons, is working with the U.S. law firm to pursue the class-action suit in Miami.
"What they have lost is much more than €11,000," he told the AP.
But Roberto Corbella, who represented Costa in the negotiations, said the deal offered Friday provides passengers with quick, "generous," and certain restitution that consumer groups estimate could amount to some $18,500 per passenger including the reimbursements.
"The big advantage that they have is an immediate response, no legal expenses, and they can put this whole thing behind them," he told The Associated Press.
Angry passenger Herbert Greszuk, a 62-year-old German who left behind everything he had with him, including his tuxedo, camera, jewelry, and even his dentures, told the AP before the compensation was announced that it was an issue of accountability.
"Something like this must not be allowed to happen again. So many people died; it's simply inexcusable," he said.
The Concordia gashed its hull on reefs off the island of Giglio after Schettino made an unauthorized deviation from its approved route to bring it closer to Giglio. Some 4,200 passengers and crew were hastily evacuated after the Concordia ran aground and capsized a few kilometers away near the port of Giglio.
Sixteen bodies have been recovered and another 16 remain unaccounted for and presumed dead. Search efforts for them resumed Friday as salvage crews prepared to begin extracting some 500,000 tons of heavy fuel oil before it leaks.
Italy's civil protection office on Friday released a list of some of the other possibly toxic substances aboard the cruise liner amid concerns of possible environmental pollution. They include 50 liters of insecticide and 41 cubic meters of lubricants, among other things.
But so far, even though there has been some film detected in the waters around the ship, tests on the waters indicate nothing outside the norm, according to Tuscany's regional environment agency.
"Toxic tests have all resulted negative," the agency said. "For now, there are no significant signs of sea water pollution."
The crystal clear seas around Giglio are a haven for scuba divers and form part of a marine sanctuary for dolphins, porpoises and whales.
Passengers have said the evacuation was chaotic, with crew members unprepared to deal with an emergency and constantly downplaying the seriousness of the situation. Coast guard data shows the captain only sounded the evacuation alarm an hour after the initial collision, well after the Concordia had listed to the point that many lifeboats couldn't be lowered.
Schettino has admitted he had taken the ship on "touristic navigation" near Giglio but has said the rocks he hit weren't charted on his nautical maps.
Codacons has called for a criminal investigation into the not-infrequent practice of "tourist navigation" — steering huge cruise ships close to shore in a publicity stunt to give passengers a view of the sites.
The chief executive of Costa, Pier Luigi Foschi, told an Italian parliamentary committee this week that "tourist navigation" wasn't illegal, and was a "cruise product" increasingly sought out by passengers and offered by cruise lines to try to stay competitive.