Photo by Andreas Solaro/AFP/Getty Images

Tragedy struck off the Italian coast this weekend when the Costa Concordia cruise liner struck rocks and capsized. Currently, six people are confirmed dead with several more missing, but while rescue operations continue and the authorities investigate the cause, Italian ministers are warning that the wreck could cause an ecological disaster. If the weather worsens and rescue efforts are stalled, it is feared up to 500,000 gallons of fuel could spill into the sea, devastating the region’s natural wildlife.

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When the 1,000 foot vessel first struck the rocks, a large gash was torn in the hull and the ship listed and came to rest on its side in 45 feet of water just off the coast of Giglio. However now the waters are becoming increasingly rough and salvage experts have said that if the ship continues to move it could slide over more rocks, rupturing its fuel tanks.

The vessel could not have found a worse place to strike the rocks – the harbour of Giglio is famed for its natural beauty and it has even won an award for having the cleanest and most transparent waters in Italy. While the captain is being investigated for reportedly “going off course”, it is clear that the coastline’s rocky reef tore a 160-foot-long gash in the side of the boat, causing water to flood it and capsize it. While a majority of the 4,200 passengers and crew safely abandoned ship, up to 15 are still reportedly missing.

“The environmental risk for the island of Giglio is very, very high,” Environment Minister Corrado Clini told reporters. “The aim is to prevent the fuel leaking out of the ship. We are working to avoid this. It is urgent and time is running out.”

Alessandra Motola Molfino, national president of Italy’s national conservation group, Italia Nostra is in no doubt about who is to blame – tourists.

“These monstrous floating cities pollute the scenery with their very presence and the rivers, seas and cities where they stop with the refuse that they produce. The disaster of the Costa Concordia unfortunately proves the insubstantiality of the type of tourism that exploits and tramples on Italy’s beauty and cultural heritage and does not produce any growth or wellbeing.”

Via Reuters and National Post

Lead photo by Andreas Solaro/AFP/Getty Images