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Cruise disaster firm offers payout

The owners of the capsized cruise ship Costa Concordia are offering 11,000 euro (£9,200) compensation for lost baggage and psychological trauma.

The ship ran aground off Tuscany when the captain deviated from his route. Sixteen bodies have been recovered and 16 people are missing, presumed dead.

Costa Crociere SpA, 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, their travel expenses and any medical expenses sustained after the grounding.

The agreement was announced 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 January 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 are not 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 US law firms to launch a class-action lawsuit against Costa and Carnival in Miami, claiming that it expects to get anywhere from 125,000 euro (£104,000) to one million euro (£840,000) per passenger.

Codacons has also called for a criminal investigation into the practice of steering huge cruise ships close to shore to give passengers and residents on land a bit of a thrill. The chief executive of Costa, Pier Luigi Foschi, told an Italian parliamentary committee that so-called "tourist navigation" was not illegal, and was a "cruise product" sought out by passengers and offered by cruise lines to try to stay competitive.

Search efforts for the missing have resumed as salvage crews prepare to begin extracting some 500,000 tons of heavy fuel oil before it leaks.

Passengers have said the evacuation was chaotic. 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 could not be lowered. Schettino has admitted he had taken the ship on "touristic navigation" but has said the rocks he hit were not charted on his nautical maps.

www.costacruises.co.uk/(Costa Cruises)

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