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Costa Concordia salvage to begin

Salvage work is expected to begin later on Wednesday on the Costa Concordia, as hopes fade that any more survivors will be found on the striken cruise ship.

Rescuers have been through almost all of the ship that remains above the water line and experts believe there is little risk of a major fuel leak.

Eleven bodies have been recovered so far and 24 people are missing.

The captain of the Italian ship, Francesco Schettino is under house arrest, accused of causing the crash.

Along with the salvage workers - who will begin operations once rescue efforts have been declared over - a specialist team from Dutch salvage company SMIT is to start drilling through the ship towards the 17 tanks that hold more than 2,000 tones of fuel.

The announcement that Capt Schettino would be held under house arrest instead of in jail came as prosecutors accused him of causing the crash and also of fleeing the Costa Concordia while passengers were still stranded.

A recording of a call between him and a port official after the crash appears to support this, though Capt Schettino denies the claims.

In the recording, released by the Corriere della Sera newspaper, Livorno Port Authority chief Gregorio de Falco can be heard repeatedly telling the captain to get back on board the ship to help the stranded passengers.

"Schettino, maybe you saved yourself from the sea, but I'll make you have trouble for sure. Go aboard," says Mr De Falco.

The captain appears to refuse, replying first that there are rescuers already on board, and then that it is dark and difficult to see.

Mr De Falco replies: "Do you want to go home, Schettino? It's dark, so you want to go home?"

Coastguards believe he never went back to the ship. He was arrested shortly afterwards.

But during a court hearing on Tuesday, the captain said he could not get on board the vessel because it was lying on its side.

He argued that after hitting rocks he had executed a difficult manoeuvre that had saved many people's lives.

The ship, carrying 4,200 passengers and crew, had its hull ripped open when it hit rocks late on Friday, just hours after leaving the port of Civitavecchia for a week-long Mediterranean cruise.

Some people were forced to swim for shore as the angle of the ship made launching lifeboats impossible.

Meanwhile, satellite tracking information given to the BBC by the shipping journal, Lloyd's List Intelligence, shows that the Costa Concordia sailed closer to Giglio island on a cruise last August than it did on its disastrous voyage on Friday.

Lloyd's List told the BBC that the vessel passed within 230m of the island on 14 August 2011 to mark La Notte di San Lorenzo - the night of the shooting stars festival on the island.

The route deviation on that occasion had apparently been authorised by Costa Cruises - the company which owns the vessel.

The company said on Monday that the ship was never closer than 500m to the coast when it passed on 14 August.

Lloyd's List describes that occasion as a "near miss" and says the ship's route would have been less than 200m away from the point of collision on Friday's voyage.

Costa Cruises said on Monday that the route deviation last Friday had been "unauthorised, unapproved and unknown to Costa".

But Richard Meade, the Editor of Lloyd's List, said: "The company's account of what happened, of the rogue master [Capt Schettino] taking a bad decision, isn't quite as black and white as they presented originally."

"This ship took a very similar route only a few months previously and the master would have known that."

Costa Cruises says it is looking into the claims, but stands by the statement it gave on Monday.

Nautical charts

Meanwhile, Lloyd's List says the issue of which nautical charts the captain of the vessel was using looks likely to be critical to his defence if he does face a criminal prosecution.

The UK Hydrographic Office (UKHO) has issued a statement declining to comment on whether its charts were being used. No rocks are shown on the UKHO's chart at the position where the Costa Concordia sank.

The UKHO points out that its charts are only at the 1:300,000 scale and that Italian charts are available on a much larger scale.

"It should be noted that this small scale chart is considered to be unsuitable for close inshore navigation," the UKHO told Lloyds.—BBC

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