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New photos show lifeboat evacuation of Italian cruise ship Costa Concordia after it ran aground

New photos show lifeboats spilling out of the Costa Concordia after the cruise ship ran aground off the coast of Italy.

The photos show lifeboats, illuminated by lights from the Costa Concordia, sailing away from the partly submerged ship to the nearby Isola del Giglio island. Nearly 4,200 passengers and crew members were evacuated.

The evacuation, which was launched almost an hour after the ship ran aground, has been described as "chaotic," with some crew members unable to operate lifeboats.

Many were unable to escape the lurching ship and three bodies were found in the waters around the ship in the first hours after the accident.

The Concordia ran aground and capsized on Jan. 13 after the captain, Francesco Schettino, veered from his approved course and gashed the ship's hull on a reef, forcing the panicked evacuation.

Sixteen deaths have been confirmed so far in the disaster, but three of those bodies have yet to be identified. Another 16 people are still missing from the ship, but officials have acknowledged that it would take a miracle to find any more survivors.

Schettino, despite audiotapes of him defying Coast Guard orders to scramble back aboard, has denied he abandoned ship while hundreds of passengers were desperately trying to get off the capsizing vessel. He has said he coordinated the rescue from aboard a lifeboat and then from the shore.

On Wednesday, the chief executive of Costa Crociere SpA, Pier Luigi Foschi, insisted that Schettino didn't have approval to change the ship's routing and was going far too fast -- 16 knots -- to be so close to shore.

But he defended the practice of so-called "tourist navigation," whereby enormous cruise ships steer close to shore to give passengers a look at the sites. He said it was part of the "cruise product" that passengers demand and that cruise lines are forced to offer to stay competitive.

"It's something that enriches the cruise product," Foschi told a parliamentary committee. "There are many components of the cruise product, and we have to do them like everyone else because we are in a global competition."

Costa is owned by Miami-based Carnival Corp., the world's largest cruise company.

Foschi stressed that such deviations from charted routes are supposed to follow strict protocols that ensure safety: ports are informed, the company is informed, and certainly no ship of the Concordia's size would be charging 200-300 yards off shore at 16 knots.

"For anyone who knows that zone, that ship with those characteristics shouldn't have been there," he said.

Schettino is under house arrest, facing accusations of manslaughter, causing a shipwreck and abandoning a ship before all passengers were evacuated.

On Wednesday, his lawyer filed a motion challenging the house arrest, saying Schettino wasn't a flight risk and asserting that there was no risk that he would repeat the crime since no cruise line would hire him, the ANSA news agency reported.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.