Salvage crews suspend work on 'Costa Concordia'

Sea conditions mar plans to unload fuel and oil; divers find a 17th body aboard the wrecked cruise liner.

The Costa Concordia cruise ship 311 (R) (photo credit: REUTERS/ Max Rossi)
The Costa Concordia cruise ship 311 (R)
(photo credit: REUTERS/ Max Rossi)
GIGLIO, Italy - Salvage crews preparing to pump thousands of tonnes of diesel fuel and oil from the wreck of the Costa Concordia cruise ship off the Italian coast suspended work on Saturday after heavy seas made conditions unsafe, officials said.
A barge carrying pumping equipment that was attached to the capsized ship was withdrawn although work may be resumed in the afternoon, depending on conditions.
"The wind conditions and waves of more than a meter have forced us to interrupt work but we'll start up again when conditions improve," said Antonino Corsini, one of the emergency services divers working with Dutch salvage company SMIT.
Despite the interruption the search continued for bodies on the half-submerged vessel, which lies in about 20 meters of water on a rock shelf close to the island of Giglio off the Tuscan coast.
Divers found the body of a woman on Saturday, bringing the total number of known dead to 17.
But with no hope of finding survivors, the focus has switched to preventing an environmental disaster in Giglio, a popular holiday island in a marine nature reserve.
Before the work was suspended, crews were installing valves to help pump out six of the ship's fuel tanks, which contain around half of the more than 2,300 tonnes of diesel.
Pumping, originally expected to begin on Saturday, is expected to be delayed until at least Sunday. The process of extracting all the fuel is expected to take at least 28 days, officials have said.
The Concordia, a 290-meter long floating resort carrying more than 4,200 passengers and crew, sank more than two weeks ago after it ran into a rock which tore a hole in its hull.
The accident, expected to create the most expensive maritime insurance claim ever, has triggered a legal battle which has seen U.S. and Italian lawyers preparing class action and individual suits against the operator, Costa Cruises.
In a bid to limit the fallout, Costa, a unit of Carnival Corp , the world's largest cruise ship operator, has offered the more than 3,000 passengers $14,500 each in compensation on condition they drop any legal action.
The Concordia's captain, Francesco Schettino, is under house arrest, suspected of causing the accident by steering too close to shore and faces charges of multiple manslaughter and abandoning ship before the evacuation was complete.
The ship's first officer, Ciro Ambrosio, has also been questioned by prosecutors but the company itself has not been implicated in the investigation at this stage.