ROME — In the chaotic evacuation of the Costa Concordia, passengers and crew abandoned almost everything on board the cruise ship: jewels, cash, champagne, antiques, 19th-century Bohemian crystal glassware, and 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 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 sunken booty.
On board were elegant 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 Mount 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 losses. 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 euros, but that doesn’t take into account the value of all other objects on board, said Costa Crociere, the Italian company that operated the Costa Concordia.
“Quantifying this is impossible because, unfortunately, the ship has sunk,” Costa Crociere said. “Until the ship is recovered there’s no way to know what can be saved and what can’t.”
For now, the ship’s wreckage has been impounded by authorities and is surrounded by rescue workers, cleanup crews and scientists monitoring its stability on the rocky perch where it ran aground.
Civil Protection, the agency running the rescue effort, says there is so much activity surrounding it now that authorities don’t see a risk of looting yet. It also says it plans to remove the wreckage before looters can reach it.
After the ship ran aground, authorities passed a decree preventing anyone from coming within a nautical mile of the wreck, a ruling that will be valid as long as the huge liner is still in place, the Coast Guard said.
Civil Protection director Franco Gabrielli said recently that it could take seven to 10 months to remove the 950-foot-long ship once a contract is awarded for the job.