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Costa Launches New Safety Measures After Concordia Disaster

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ROME -- Italian cruise line Costa Crociere SpA unveiled new safety measures Saturday following the deadly grounding of its ship off Tuscany, saying it will now have real-time tracking of its ships' routes and will impose limits on its captains' absolute authority.

The measures seek to respond to many of the problems involved in the Costa Concordia disaster: The ship rammed into a reef Jan. 13 after the captain veered off course in an apparent stunt, and then capsized off the island of Giglio, killing 32 people.

Many passengers complained they hadn't received safety evacuation training, even though they had boarded days before. Costa says such training will now be provided before passengers even board, and that a monitoring system will flag passengers who missed out and encourage them to take a make-up session.

Passengers also said the captain delayed the evacuation alarm for nearly an hour after the initial grounding until the ship was listing so perilously that lifeboats couldn't be lowered down.

Costa said new bridge procedures stipulate that the captain isn't the only one who issues orders. Members of his team also take part in making decisions, particularly during special navigation procedures like pulling into port, Costa said.

The Concordia captain, Francesco Schettino, is under house arrest, accused of manslaughter, causing a shipwreck and abandoning the ship before all passengers had been evacuated. He is accused of taking the ship off its charted course to bring it closer to Giglio in an apparent flyby. He claims the reef he hit – identified on all tourist maps of Giglio – wasn't on his nautical charts.

Costa has said Schettino's route change was unknown to the company and unauthorized.

To ensure such a maneuver doesn't happen again, Costa said it was launching a fleet-wide monitoring system that allows the company to follow the routes of its vessels in real-time and pinpoint the exact location of each ship to detect any unexpected changes in course.

The measures were announced Saturday as Costa unveiled the latest addition to its fleet: The (EURO)510-million ($670-million) Costa Fascinosa, with a capacity of 3,800 passengers, is now the largest Italian-flagged cruise ship.

In October, another Costa ship being built by Italian ship maker Fincantieri is due to surpass it with a capacity of 4,928 passengers.

Costa, which is owned by Miami-based Carnival Corp., is Europe's No. 1 cruise operator.

Costa chairman and outgoing chief executive Pier Luigi Foschi said the delivery of the Fascinosa was an important step in the company's recovery from the Concordia disaster and overall economic crisis.

Despite such problems, "Costa has bounced back and booking volumes are back to the same levels recorded this time last year, ahead of our own expectations," Foschi said in a statement.

As Costa celebrated the inauguration of the Fascinosa near Venice, recovery and cleanup operations continued Saturday off Giglio as they have since the grounding: Civil protection officials said the search for the two bodies that are still unaccounted for was again unsuccessful and would resume Sunday.

Costa has tapped U.S. salvage company Titan Salvage to remove the ship from its rocky perch. The yearlong operation envisages removing the mammoth liner in one piece and towing it to a nearby Italian port.

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Italy's Costa announces new safety measures: real-time ship tracking, limits ...