NEWS

Italian cruise ship divers find 17th victim

01/28/2012 01:52 EST | Updated 03/29/2012 05:12 EDT

Divers searching the wreck of the Costa Concordia off Italy's Tuscan coast have found the body of a woman, bringing the number of dead to 17.

The woman, who wasn't wearing a life jacket, was found by divers Saturday on the submerged sixth-floor deck, civil protection officials said.

The body was identified as that of a woman from Peru. Sixteen people also remain unaccounted for and are presumed dead.

The discovery came as salvage operations to pump out 2,300 tonnes of fuel from the grounded cruise ship were delayed by rough seas.

Choppy waters partially dislodged a barge owned by a Dutch salvage firm that was hitched to the Concordia's hull to serve as a staging platform for the fuel-removal operation.

The company had intended to begin pumping fuel out Saturday, as concerns grow that a leak could wreak havoc on a protected marine sanctuary.

Timeline for fuel salvaging

Paola Pagliara, from Italy's civil protection forecast centre, said weather conditions off the island of Giglio, where the Concordia ran aground Jan. 13, are likely to remain rough through the weekend. And the salvage company said the fuel-pumping operation may not begin until midweek due to the poor weather.

More than 4,200 passengers and crew members were on board when the vessel slammed into underwater rocks off the shore of the island. The abandon ship alarm didn't sound until the ship began to capsize, causing a panicked evacuation.

The crash is under investigation, while uncertainty also surrounds the operation to salvage the ship.

The Concordia's captain, Francesco Schettino, has been placed under house arrest. He is accused of manslaughter, causing a shipwreck and abandoning a ship before its passengers had evacuated.

Schettino has said he took the ship on "tourist navigation" to bring it close to Giglio but that the reef he hit had was not marked on his nautical charts.

Costa Crociere, which owns the ship and is part of the Carnival Group, has offered uninjured passengers 11,000 euros (about $14,500) each in compensation, on condition that they not participate in any legal action.

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.

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