ROME - A new audiotape emerged Thursday of the first contact between Livorno port officials and the Costa Concordia and an officer is heard insisting that his cruise ship only had a blackout a full 30 minutes after it had rammed into a reef.
Italian media reported the officer on the call was Capt. Francesco Schettino, who was jailed after he left the ship before everyone was safely evacuated, but that could not be independently confirmed.
Schettino is under house arrest, facing possible charges of manslaughter, causing a shipwreck and abandoning his ship.
The $450 million Costa Concordia was carrying more than 4,200 passengers and crew when it slammed into well-charted rocks off the Tuscan island of Giglio after Schettino made an unauthorized diversion Friday from his programmed route. The ship then keeled over on its side.
Eleven people have been confirmed dead and 21 others are still missing.
The recording between the officer and port officials began at 10:12 p.m. Friday, a good 30 minutes after the ship violently hit a reef and panicked passengers had fled the dining room to get their lifejackets.
Recordings of Schettino's conversations with coast guard officials after the ship capsized on its side have shown how he resisted repeated orders to return on board to oversee the evacuation.
In a new recording released Thursday, the first communication between the ship and Livorno port authorities, the cruise officer is heard assuring the port officer that he was checking out the reasons for the blackout. But he doesn't volunteer that the ship had hit a reef.
Rather, the port officer tells the cruise officer that his agency had heard from a relative of one of ship's sailors that "during dinner everything fell on their heads." Passengers in the dining area reported plates and glasses slamming down onto diners.
"We are verifying the conditions on board," the cruise officer replies. Asked if passengers had been told to put on life jackets, he responds: "Correct."
Crew members and passengers alike have complained about the chaotic evacuation and the lack of direction from the ship's management.
Divers, meanwhile, restarted the search Thursday for those still missing, but a forecast of rough seas added uncertainty to the operation and to plans to begin pumping fuel from the stranded vessel.
The divers were focusing on an evacuation route on the fourth level, now about 60 feet below the water's surface, where five bodies were found earlier this week, Navy spokesman Alessandro Busonero told Sky TG 24. Crews set off small explosions to blow holes into hard-to-reach areas for easier access by divers.
Officials restarted the search after determining the ship had stabilized after shifting on the rocks 24 hours earlier.
Also Thursday, seven of the dead were identified by authorities: French passengers Jeanne Gannard, Pierre Gregoire, Francis Servil, 71, and Jean-Pierre Micheaud, 61; Peruvian crew member Thomas Alberto Costilla Mendoza; Spanish passenger Guillermo Gual, 68, and Italian passenger Giovanni Masia, who news reports said would have turned 86 next week and was buried in Sardinia on Thursday.
Italian authorities have identified 32 people who have either died or are missing: 12 Germans, seven Italians, six French, two Peruvians, two Americans and one person each from Hungary, India and Spain.
The ship's sudden movement Wednesday had also postponed the start of the weekslong operation to extract the half-million gallons of fuel on board the vessel. Italy's environment minister issued a fresh warning Thursday about the implications if the ship shifts and breaks any of its now-intact oil tanks.
"We are very concerned" about the weather, minister Corrado Clini told Mediaset television. "If the tanks were to break, the fuel would block the sunlight from getting to the bottom of the sea, making a kind of film, and that would cause the death of the marine system in the area."
Crew members returning home have begun speaking out about the chaotic evacuation, saying the captain sounded the alarm too late and didn't give orders or instructions about how to evacuate passengers. Eventually, crew members started lowering lifeboats on their own.
"They asked us to make announcements to say that it was electrical problems and that our technicians were working on it and to not panic," French steward Thibault Francois told France-2 television Thursday. "I told myself this doesn't sound good."
He said the captain took too long to react and that eventually his boss told him to start escorting passengers to lifeboats. "No, there were no orders from the management," he said.
Indian ship waiter Mukesh Kumar said "the emergency alarm was sounded very late," only after the ship "started tilting and water started seeping" in.
He was one of four Indians flown to New Delhi on Thursday, the first to return out of 203 Indians aboard the Concordia.
"The ship shook for a while, and then the crockery stated falling all over," said Indian Kandari Surjan Singh, who worked in the ship's galley. "People started panicking. Then the captain ordered that everything is under control and said it was a normal electric fault ... so people calmed down after that."