Cruise ship likely to be stuck for 10 months

Bad weather near the capsized cruise ship off the coast of Italy forces suspension of the recovery operation of the Costa Concordia, a task that could take 10 months.

Residents of Tuscan island worried about environment, tourism industry

Residents of Giglio are growing increasingly worried about threats to the environment and the future of the Italian island as bad weather again forced suspension of the recovery operation of the capsized cruise ship Costa Concordia.

Residents are concerned after being told that it will take up to 10 months to remove the cruise ship, and have called for an island-wide meeting to discuss how to protect their interests.

Officials on Monday set off another explosion in an underwater compartment but held off both operations to remove 500,000 gallons of fuel and the search for people still missing because of rough seas.

A 17th body, identified as Peruvian crew member Erika Soria Molina, was found Saturday. Sixteen crew and passengers remain listed as missing, with one body recovered from the ship not yet identified.

Officials have virtually ruled out finding anyone alive more than two weeks after the Costa Concordia hit a reef, but were reluctant to give a final death toll for the Jan. 13 disaster. The crash happened when the captain deviated from his planned route, creating a huge gash that capsized the ship. More than 4,200 people were on board.

"Our first goal was to find people alive," Franco Gabrielli, the national civil protection official in charge of the operation, told a daily briefing. "Now we have a single, big goal, and that is that this does not translate into an environmental disaster."

On Sunday, the Costa Concordia had moved four centimetres over six hours, coupled with waves of more than one metre.

University of Florence professor Riccardo Fanti said the ship's movements could either be caused by the ship settling on its own weight, slipping deeper into the seabed, or both. He also could not rule out the ship's sliding along the seabed.

Fuel removal to take 28 days

Experts have said it would take 28 days to remove fuel from 15 tanks accounting for more than 80 per cent of all fuel on board the ship. The next job would be to target the engine room, which contains nearly 350 cubic meters of diesel, fuel and other lubricants, Gabrielli said.

Only once the fuel is removed can work begin on removing the ship, either floating it in one piece or cutting it up and towing it away as a wreck. Costa has begun the process for taking bids for the recovery operation, a process that will take two months.

Gabrielli said the actual removal will take from seven to 10 months — meaning that the wreck will be visible from the coast of the island of Giglio for the entire summer tourism 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 1.6 kilometres from the wrecked ship, affecting access to Giglio's only harbour 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."

Italian ship operator Costa Crociere SpA on Friday offered uninjured passengers €11,000, or about $14,500 Cdn, plus reimbursement for the cost of cruise tickets and extra travel expenses, seeking to cut a deal with as many passengers as possible to take the wind out of class-action lawsuits.

But a consumer group and two US law firms are filing a class-action lawsuit in the U.S. demanding at least $160,000 US for each passenger.