Vigili del Fuoco, Associated Press
ROME — In the chaotic evacuation of the Costa Concordia, passengers and crew abandoned almost everything on board: jewels, cash, champagne, antiques, 19th century Bohemian crystal glassware, thousands of art objects including 300-year-old woodblock prints by a Japanese master.
In other words, a veritable treasure now lies beneath the pristine Italian waters where the massive luxury liner ran aground last month.
Though some objects are bound to disintegrate, there is still hoard enough to tempt treasure seekers — just as the Titanic and countless shipwrecks before have lured seekers of gold, armaments and other riches for as far back as mankind can remember.
It may be just a matter of time before treasure hunters set their sights on the sunken spoils of the Costa Concordia, which had more than 4,200 people on board.
"As long as there are bodies in there, it's considered off base to everybody because it's a grave," said Robert Marx, a veteran diver and the author of numerous books on maritime history and underwater archaeology and treasure hunting. "But when all the bodies are out, there will be a mad dash for the valuables."
The Mafia, he said, even has underwater teams that specialize in going after sunken booty.
The Costa Concordia was essentially a floating luxury hotel, and many of the passengers embarked on the ill-fated cruise with their finest clothes and jewels so they could parade them in casinos and at gala dinners beneath towering chandeliered ceilings.
On top of that was massive wealth belonging to the ship itself: shops stocked with jewelry, more than 6,000 works of art decorating walls and a wellness spa containing a collection of 300-year-old woodblock prints by Katsushika Hokusai, a Japanese artist most famous for his work of a giant wave framing Mt. Fuji in the distance.
"It's now a paradise for divers," said Hans Reinhardt, a German lawyer who represents 19 German passengers seeking compensation for their loss. He said some of his clients traveled with diamond-studded jewels and other heirlooms that had been in their families for generations.
"They lost lots of jewelry — watches, necklaces, whatever women wear when they want to get well dressed," Reinhardt said. "They wanted to show off what they have."
The massive cruise liner itself is worth €450 million, but that's just the cost of the ship and engine and doesn't take into account the value of all other objects on board, said Davide Barbano, the spokesman for Costa Crociere, the Italian company that operated the Costa Concordia.
Barbano confirmed that among the sunken objects are furniture, the vast art collection, computers, wine, champagne, as well as whatever valuables were locked away in safes in private cabins. Costa Crociere still legally owns the ship and the passengers own their sunken objects.
"Quantifying this is impossible because unfortunately the ship has sunk," Barbano said. "Until the ship is recovered there's no way to know what can be saved and what can't."
The ship ran aground off the Tuscan island of Giglio after the captain, Francesco Schettino, veered from his approved course, apparently to move closer to entertain passengers with a closer view of the island — a common cruise ship practice. Schettino is now under house arrest, facing accusations of manslaughter, causing a shipwreck and abandoning ship before all passengers were evacuated. Seventeen people are confirmed killed in the Jan. 13 shipwreck, with 15 more still missing.
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