GIGLIO, Italy (AP) — Italian emergency officials are ending the search for missing people in the submerged part of the Costa Concordia cruise ship due to the danger to rescue workers.
Italy’s Civil Protection agency said Tuesday that technical studies indicated the deformed hull of the ship created too many safety concerns to continue the search within it. Relatives of the missing and diplomatic officials representing their countries have been informed of the decision, it said in a statement.
A spokeswoman for Civil Protection, Francesca Maffini, stressed that the search for the missing would continue wherever possible, including on the part of the ship above the water, in the waters surrounding the ship and along the nearby coastline.
The Concordia ran aground off the Tuscan island of Giglio on Jan. 13 when the captain deviated from his planned route and struck a reef, creating a huge gash that capsized the ship.
Some 4,200 passengers and crew were on board when it capsized. Seventeen bodies have been recovered, of which one has not yet been identified. Sixteen people are listed as missing but are presumed dead. The last time anyone was found alive was Jan. 15.
Italian authorities had already begun shifting their focus from finding the missing to preventing an environmental disaster. The ship contains about 500,000 gallons (2,400 tons) of heavy fuel and other pollutants, and fears are growing that those pollutants could spill out, damaging a pristine environment that is home to dolphins, whales and other marine life.
Franco Gabrielli, the head of Italy’s civil protection agency, has it could take a full seven to 10 months once a contract is awarded to remove the 950-foot-long (290-meter) ship, raising deep concerns among residents who make their living from fishing and tourism.
Only once the fuel is pumped out — a monthlong process — can salvage work begin on removing the ship, either floating it in one piece or cutting it up and towing it away.
That means the damaged ship, or at least parts of it, will still be off the coast for the summer tourist season.
There has been no word from the family of a Minnesota couple missing in the Italian cruise ship disaster since the search for missing people was called off.
Members of the Jerry and Barbara Heil family of White Bear Lake did not immediately return phone calls from The Associated Press on Tuesday. The family website has not been updated since last Wednesday.
The Heils are members of St. Pius X church in White Bear Lake. Parish administrator Larry Erickson says he has not heard from family members recently but that parishioners have been keeping the couple in their prayers.
Italian emergency officials decided to end the search due to the danger to rescue workers.
Seventeen bodies have been recovered. Sixteen people are listed as missing but are presumed dead.