Divers abandon search on Costa ConcordiaWednesday 01 February 2012 11.34
Italian divers have ended their search on the wreck of the Costa Concordia cruise liner, in which 32 people are feared to have died.
"We have definitively stopped the underwater search inside the ship," said Luca Cari, fire brigade spokesman on the island of Giglio, explaining that conditions inside the giant half-submerged liner were becoming too risky.
"The conditions are no longer acceptable," Mr Cari said.
The civil protection agency, which has been overseeing rescue efforts following the 13 January disaster, said in a statement it had contacted the families of the missing and foreign embassies involved to explain its decision.
It added that rescuers would continue to inspect the above-water part of the liner and use specialist equipment to check for bodies on the sea bed around the wreck.
The 114,500-tonne Costa Concordia with more than 4,200 people aboard ran aground on rocks off Giglio and rolled on to its side shortly after the start of a Mediterranean cruise.
Divers have recovered 17 bodies from the sea and the wreck and 15 people remain missing.
The search has had to be suspended several times due to choppy seas and small movements of the wreck, which led to concerns that the massive ship could slip off the rocky shelf it is resting on and sink entirely.
Divers have described tricky conditions inside the ship, with corridors cluttered with furniture and dirty water. Divers have been limited to a maximum of 50 minutes, making it difficult to penetrate far into the vessel.
A spokeswoman for the civil protection agency said the last unidentified body was "very probably" that of a German woman, but added that the formal identification has not yet been made.
Meanwhile, Pier Luigi Foschi, the chief executive of operator Costa Crociere, part of US-based giant Carnival Corp, told a Senate committee hearing that fuel pumping from the ship would start within the next 24 hours.
"We believe that the wreck can no longer be put in use," he said of the ship, which cost €450m to build and was launched in 2006.
Environmentalists fear that the 2,380 tons of heavy fuel oil in the Costa Concordia's tanks could begin leaking out into the area's pristine waters.
"The first operation will be to empty the ship, the second to clean up the wreck and the third to move the ship, which will be a truly enormous operation that has never been done before," Mr Foschi told senators.
Island residents concerned about the impact on tourism have called for the ship to be removed quickly and have launched a protest after the civil protection agency said it would take up to a year.
Captain Francesco Schettino and first officer Ciro Ambrosio are accused of manslaughter and abandoning ship.