Cruise ship survivors being offered $14K in compensation

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Costa Concordia

ROME (CNN) — Surviving passengers on the wrecked Costa Concordia cruise ship are being offered a lump sum of $14,400 each in compensation, the cruise line said Friday.

The decision was reached during a meeting between Costa Cruises and consumer groups, the Italian Association of Tour Operators said.

The massive liner struck rocks and rolled over onto its side in shallow waters off an island on Italy’s Tuscan coast on January 13, leading to a panicked overnight evacuation and at least 16 deaths. Another 16 people are missing.

Franco Gabrielli of Italy’s civil protection agency, who is heading the rescue operation, said 14 of the bodies found have now been identified.

Efforts were under way Friday to open up new passages in the ship’s hull so rescuers could access more areas, he told reporters.

Operations to remove 2,400 tons fuel from the liner’s tanks will begin Saturday afternoon or Sunday, after a slight delay, he said.

Weather and sea conditions are expected to worsen Saturday, leading to higher waves, Gabrielli said. While this will not prevent the removal of fuel, it could present more risk to the environment if anything goes wrong, he added.

Residents of Giglio island near the site of the shipwreck have complained of seeing white filaments in the sea, he said, but further testing is needed to confirm the origin of the substance.

Outlining the compensation deal, Costa expressed “its profound condolences to the families of the victims, our continued sympathy to the families of the missing, and our deep regret and sorrow for the damages and hardship the Costa Concordia accident caused to all its guests.”

The compensation will be paid to each passenger regardless of age and will cover damage to and loss of property and any psychological distress suffered, it said.

The payout will include reimbursement for the cost of the cruise and additional travel expenses. Costa will return the contents of cabin safes to their owners where possible, and it will also set up a psychological counseling program for those passengers who request it.

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, the statement added.

A spokesman for the Italian Association of Tour Operators said none of the passengers was obliged to sign the agreement but, if they do, they will no longer be able to file a lawsuit against Costa.

Jesus Garcia Heredia, who was on the cruise with his wife, told CNN 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 has not yet been contacted by anyone in the company to talk about compensation, but says “it’s not that easy” just to accept a lump sum.

“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 wants further compensation because he and his wife, Sarah, had to swim 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.”

Roberto Corbella, president of the tour operators’ association, said the compensation offer “aims to give, after such a serious disgrace, a quick, concrete and adequate answer.”

The 11,000 euro lump sum reflects Italian and international law, he said, with Costa likely to pay out about 3,000 euros more per passenger on top of that in refunds and travel costs.

He estimated the total cost of the offer at more than 40 million euros ($59 million), not counting separate agreements with the injured and families of those missing or killed.

Corbella said cruise cancellations are only running about 10% higher than average.

Costa has said anyone who booked before January 13 for a future cruise and wishes to cancel may do so without penalty, provided they get in touch by February 7.

Meanwhile, the captain of the Costa Concordia, Francesco Schettino, is under house arrest and faces possible charges of manslaughter, shipwreck and abandoning ship.

Prosecutors Friday were questioning Ciro Ambrosio, Schettino’s deputy on board the ship.

Entering the tribunal, his lawyer told reporters: “‘We have many arms to defend us with honor. We don’t feel responsible.”

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.

In a 126-page transcript, Schettino said he ran the ship aground to keep it from sinking and limit the tilting.