Salvagers started to pump fuel away from the half-submerged wreck of the Costa Concordia cruise ship on Sunday, a month after it capsized and foundered off the Italian coast.

Operations to remove more than 2,300 tonnes of fuel from the liner and avert the threat of an oil spill in the surrounding marine reserve had been initially delayed by the search for survivors and bodies and held up further by rough weather.

Finally we have some favourable weather and we'll keep on pumping throughout the night, said Bart Huizing from Dutch salvage firm SMIT, which has been tasked by the ship's owners to handle the fuel removal.

We have the weather forecast showing at least four to five days of good weather so we will continue with the pumping 24 hours a day, he said.

Italy's Civil Protection Department said the operation to empty 15 fuel tanks within the ship would likely take 28 working days, as long as the weather remained calm.

The 290-metre long vessel capsized close to the Tuscan island of Giglio on January 13 after it struck a rock which tore a large gash in its hull. At least 17 people died and 15 are still missing.

Its captain Francesco Schettino is blamed by the liner's owners for causing the accident and is under house arrest, facing charges of multiple manslaughter and abandoning ship before the evacuation of more than 4,200 passengers and crew was complete.

(Reporting by Carmelo Camilli; Writing by Catherine Hornby; Editing by Alison Williams)