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Italian report Italian report
by Euro Reporter
2012-01-23 07:21:02
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Italian cruise death toll rises to 13

The death toll from the Costa Concordia shipwreck has raised to 13 after divers found the body of a woman in the stern of the half-sunken cruise ship. Civil Protection services Chief Franco Gabrielli said that while 24 people were still unaccounted for, the number could yet change. On Saturday, divers retrieved the body of a woman who was found trapped in a corridor of the 290-metre-long cruise ship, which ran aground near Giglio Island off Italy's western coast on January 13. Earlier the chief of Italy's rescue services said eight of the dead have been identified. "The eight identified are four French nationals, one Italian, one Hungarian, one German and one Spanish national," said Gabrielli.

Of the eight identified, seven were men and one was a woman, according to police officer Rocco Carpenteri. Gabrielli said it was difficult to precisely state the number of people still missing because of the "possibility" that some people had boarded the cruise ship without following proper registration procedures. He cited the example of a Hungarian woman who had allegedly phoned her relatives from aboard the Concordia and whose presence on the ship, if confirmed, would bring from 24 to 25 the people listed as missing. He said the woman's name - which he did not disclose at the news conference - did not appear on the list of passengers and crew provided by the Concordia's owner, Genoa-based Costa Crociere. However, the officer in charge of security on the Concordia, has denied the possibility that people had been allowed on board the vessel without being properly registered.

"Illegals on board? That is impossible. They (the passengers) are all registered and photographed while boarding. It is all electronic," Manrico Giampedroni was quoted as saying by the ANSA news agency. Giampedroni has been widely hailed as a hero after he helped scores of passengers leave the listing vessel on the night of the accident. While searching for more people to evacuate, he broke his leg and remained trapped on the ship until rescuers found him 36 hours later. During his news conference, Gabrielli also said scientific tests carried out so far had shown "no significant ecological contamination" from the fuel onboard the ship. The situation is being monitored on a daily basis. Rescuers were continuing their search of the Concordia after a slight shift in the half-sunken vessel's position had forced an overnight halt in operations. Meanwhile, the Concordia's captain has reportedly told investigators that it was the policy of Costa Crociere to have its cruise ships "salute" ports such as Giglio as part of a "planned publicity stunt". The company has denied this.

"We were also supposed to do it the week before, but I did not do it because of bad weather," Captain Francesco Schettino told prosecutors last week, according to the newspaper Corriere dell Sera. "We do tourist shipping, we advertise ourselves, and we salute the island," Schettino allegedly told prosecutors, referring to the so-called "inchino" - bow or courtesy - where the ship sails close to the shore blowing its horn, or, if the manoeuvre takes place at night, with all its lights on. According to leaked transcripts of his conversation with prosecutors, Schettino said the "salute" initially entailed bringing the vessel about half a kilometre from the shore, but this was subsequently changed to just 280 metres, Corriere della Sera reported. Schettino remains under house arrest while prosecutors are trying to have him indicted on charges of manslaughter; causing a shipwreck; and abandoning the ship before all were evacuated. He has reportedly admitted to veering the ship off course, causing it to crash against rocks near Giglio. However, he insists he helped coordinate the evacuation, but was forced to do so from Giglio's docks after slipping off the listing ship onto a lifeboat.


Italy announces new steps to get economy moving

In a bold effort to transform Italy’s protectionist economy and to foster growth amid a deepening recession, Prime Minister Mario Monti on Friday announced a new set of measures aimed at reviving Italy’s sluggish economy by investing $7.1 billion in infrastructure and opening up professional guilds to competition. The measures come as Mr. Monti, a technocrat who assumed power in November, races to prevent Italy from falling into an “austerity trap,” in which the $40 billion package of tax increases and spending cuts passed in December to trim the budget deficit would cause a further contraction. The Bank of Italy has said that the country’s economy is expected to shrink 1.5 percent this year, while the International Monetary Fund forecast that it would contract 2.2 percent.

The changes, which are expected to be submitted to Parliament for approval soon, include allowing gas stations to choose their providers, speeding up the pace of the legal system, adding 5,000 more pharmacy licenses and accelerating the liberalization of local services. They would also add 500 slots for notaries. “Italy’s economy has for decades been hindered in its economic and social growth by three big problems: insufficient competition, inadequate infrastructure and too much red tape,” Mr. Monti said at a news conference in Rome after an eight-hour cabinet meeting.

He said that his government, which in December raised the retirement age and re-introduced an unpopular property tax, had asked Italians for “many sacrifices.” But he said the new measures would help protect them from hidden costs that increase the cost of living. Mr. Monti said that next week, his cabinet would approve a package of measures aimed at cutting bureaucracy and would continue work to loosen the country’s rigid labour laws in consultation with labour unions.


S&P hits back at Italian investigators

Ratings agency Standard & Poors hit back at Italian prosecutors on Thursday after sources said its offices in Milan were visited by tax police pursuing a probe into the impact of S&P's reports on Italian share prices. "S&P is surprised and dismayed by these investigations into our independent ratings," S&P said in a statement sent by email. "The claims being made are baseless and entirely without merit, and we will vigorously defend our actions, our reputation and that of our analysts." A source close to S&P confirmed Italian tax police had carried out the visit but declined further comment.

An investigative source said the move was part of a probe being carried out by prosecutors in the southern Italian town of Trani. "I only know that it's part of the Trani investigations, but I don't know any more," S&P defence lawyer Giuseppe Fornari said on his way in to the S&P offices. In August Italian prosecutors seized documents at S&P's offices in Milan following complaints from Italian consumer groups over the impact of its reports about Italy on Milan stock prices. One of the complaints filed in May last year targeted Standard & Poor's after it threatened to downgrade Italy's credit rating because of its huge public debt.

Prosecutors are investigating whether crimes of market manipulation and illicit use of privileged information were committed when S&P's reports were released in May, June and July 2011, prompting a sell-off of Italian assets. Earlier this month S&P hit the euro zone with a downgrade of half the countries in the single currency area, including Italy, fuelling long-standing frustration with rating agencies. A day after the downgrades, a leading political ally of German Chancellor Angela Merkel urged legislation to reduce the reliance of institutional investors on ratings agencies.

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