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Page last updated at 08:42 GMT, Monday, 16 January 2012

'These ships are still safe'

The owners of the cruise ship that ran aground off the coast of Tuscany have suggested there may have been "significant human error" on the part of the ship's captain. The death toll following the capsizing of the Costa Concordia has risen to six as investigators examine reports that the captain might have been "showing off" when he steered the vessel too close to rocks.

The BBC's Alan Johnston, reporting from the scene of the disaster, explained that more than a dozen people are still unaccounted for and that divers are working in "extraordinarily difficult and challenging conditions".

Allan Graveson of the maritime professionals' union Nautilus International told the Today programme that it had "been warning of the dangers, particularly with the construction and the design of these vessels, and indeed their operation and evacuation systems.

"They've doubled in the last ten, 15 years, and in many cases we've just merely extrapolated on the rules, on the rules of construction. And yes, the design has changed for revenue generation purposes and indeed to provide extra comfort and more facilities, and that's quite right. But there is certainly a need to pay much more emphasis upon safety."

Robert Ashdown, technical, environment and operations director for the European Cruise Council, the umbrella group for cruise companies, agreed that there had been an increase in growth of cruse ship sizes but said this had been balanced by increasingly stringent safety provisions.

And he told presenter James Naughtie that new, large scale cruise ships "still are safe and absolutely fit for purpose".

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