Search for Costa Concordia missing called off

View of the bow of the grounded cruise ship Costa Concordia off the Tuscan island of Giglio, Italy, Friday, Jan. 27, 2012. Costa Crociere SpA offered uninjured passengers Pier Paolo Cito

Updated at 10:22 a.m. ET

GIGLIO, Italy - 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.

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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 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 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.

Residents of Giglio have been circulating a petition to demand that officials provide more information on how the full-scale operations can coexist with the important tourism season. At the moment, access to the port for private boats has been banned and all boats must stay at least one mile from the wrecked ship, affecting access to Giglio's only harbor for fishermen, scuba divers and private boat owners.

"We are really sorry, we would have preferred to save them all. But now other needs and other problems arise," said Franca Melils, a local business owner who is promoting a petition for the tourist season. "It's about us, who work and make a living exclusively from tourism. We don't have factories, we don't have anything else."

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