Share this article

print logo

Ship ruled stable; fuel removal to begin; Search continues for missing people

Nudged gently by the tides off Tuscany, the capsized Costa Concordia has been deemed stable enough on its rocky perch for salvagers to begin pumping fuel oil from its giant tanks as early as today.

The cruise liner, its hull gashed by a reef and pocked by holes blasted by divers searching for the missing, yielded two more bodies Monday, 10 days after the accident. The corpses of two women were found in the luxury liner's Internet cafe, now 55 feet underwater.

Tables, desks, elegant upholstered armchairs and cabinets bobbed in the sea as divers guided the furniture out of the holes to clear space for their exploration inside.

So far, the bodies of 15 people have been found, most of them in the submerged portion of the vessel, while 17 others remain unaccounted for. Authorities said earlier reports that an unregistered Hungarian woman had called friends from the ship before it flipped over turned out to be groundless.

The Concordia rammed a reef and capsized Jan. 13 off the tiny Tuscan island of Giglio as it was carrying 4,200 passengers and crew on a Mediterranean cruise.

Salvage experts received the green light Monday to start pumping fuel soon from the double-lined tanks of the Concordia. The weeks-long fuel-removal operation aims to avert a possible environmental catastrophe in the waters off Giglio, part of a protected seven-island marine park.

Officials said the pumping would be carried out as divers continue the search for the missing since instrument readings have determined the Concordia is not at risk of sliding into deeper waters and being swallowed by the sea.

"The ship is stable," said Franco Gabrielli, head of the national civil protection agency. "There is no problem or danger that it is about to drop onto much lower seabed."

Meanwhile, an oily film was spotted about 300 yards from the capsized vessel by officials flying in a helicopter and by residents of Giglio, Gabrielli's office said. Samples were being analyzed, but preliminary observations indicated the slick is not from heavy fuel inside the Concordia's tanks.

Also Monday, the body of a woman found in the ship a few days earlier was identified as that of a 30-year-old Italian woman, a new bride who was on the Mediterranean cruise with several family members.