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 because of bad weather that could last into next week, officials said.
With heavy seas and strong winds set to continue, work on removing more than 2,300 tonnes of diesel may be held up for days, according to a spokesman for SMIT, the Dutch company that is managing the operation.
Starting operations depends on the weather conditions, Martijn Schuttevaer told reporters. The forecast is for the bad weather to last until Tuesday and we don't expect to be able to recommence activities until the middle of the week.
A barge carrying pumping equipment that was attached to the capsized ship was withdrawn after strong winds and high waves worsened conditions for the divers working on the huge wreck.
Despite the interruption the search continued for bodies on the half-submerged vessel, which lies in about 20 metres 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 number of known dead to 17. Authorities also said they had identified the body of a German woman recovered last week.
Two of the bodies found after the shipwreck are unidentified and 15 people are still missing.
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 fuel tanks towards the front of the ship which hold most of the diesel. The pumping operation is expected to take between three weeks and a month.
The Concordia, a 290-metre long floating resort carrying more than 4,200 passengers and crew, sank more than two weeks ago after it ran into a rock close to the shore which tore a long gash in its hull.
The accident, expected to trigger the most expensive maritime insurance claim ever, has set off a legal battle in which U.S. and Italian lawyers are 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.