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Workers to pump oil from grounded cruise tomorrow

Preliminary operations to remove a half-million gallons of fuel from the grounded cruise ship, before it leaks into the pristine Tuscan sea, will begin tomorrow.

Updated: Jan 25, 2012, 13:02 PM IST

Giglio: A barge carrying a crane and other equipment hitched itself to the toppled Costa Concordia, signaling the start of preliminary operations to remove a half-million gallons of fuel from the grounded cruise ship
before it leaks into the pristine Tuscan sea.

Actual pumping of the oil isn`t expected to begin until
Saturday, but teams from the Dutch shipwreck salvage firm Smit
were working on the bow of the Concordia yesterday and divers
were to make underwater inspections to identify the precise
locations of the fuel tanks.

They were at work on the now-hitched Meloria barge as
divers who blasted through a submerged section of the
third-floor deck located another body from the wreckage,
bringing the death toll to 16.

The Concordia ran aground and capsized off the Tuscan
island of Giglio on January 13 after the captain veered from
his approved course and gashed the ship`s hull on a reef,
forcing the panicked evacuation of 4,200 passengers and crew.

The 16 bodies found so far include the one located on the
third-floor deck yesterday. Seven of the badly decomposed
bodies remain unidentified and are presumed to be among some
of the 17 passengers and crew still unaccounted for.

Yesterday, the US ambassador to Italy David Thorne was at
Giglio`s port where he had lunch with relatives of two missing
Americans, Gerald and Barbara Heil of Minnesota.

"I think it`s a tragedy, we feel very badly for all the
families," Thorne told journalists after the meeting.

Giglio and its waters are part of a protected
seven-island marine park, favoured by VIPs and known for its clear waters and porpoises, dolphins and whales.

Officials have identified an initial six fuel tanks that
will be drilled into, tapped and outfitted with hoses to
vacuum out the oil from the Costa Concordia. Franco Gabrielli,
head of the national civil protection agency, told reporters
yesterday that once those initial six tanks are emptied, 50
per cent of the fuel aboard the ship will have been extracted.

The pumping will continue 24 hours a day barring rough
seas or technical glitches, he said, noting that these six
tanks are relatively easy to access.

"At this stage we don`t see a big risk in an oil spill,
but if weather deteriorates nobody can tell what the vessel
will do," Bart Huizing, head of operations at Smit, told The
Associated Press.

The disaster prompted the UN cultural organization to ask
the Italian government to restrict access of large cruise
ships to Venice, which is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. UNESCO
charged that the liners cause water tides that erode building
foundations, pollute the waterways and are an eyesore.

PTI