Italian authorities end search for cruise ship bodies

ROME Tue Jan 31, 2012 8:00am EST

ROME Jan 31 (Reuters) - Italian authorities have ended the search for bodies on the submerged sections of the capsized Costa Concordia, more than two weeks after the giant cruise liner capsized off the Tuscan coast, officials said on Tuesday.

A statement from the civil protection authority said conditions on the wreck had made it impossible for divers to continue working safely in the underwater sections of the 290-metre long vessel.

It said the decision had been finalised after the families of the 15 people still unaccounted for had been informed.

As well as the 15 missing, a total of 17 bodies have been recovered since the accident on Jan. 13 in which the Concordia, carrying more than 4,200 passengers and crew, was holed by a rock after its captain steered to within 150 metres of the tiny island of Giglio.

The search will continue in other sections of the half-submerged ship and in waters up to 18 square kilometres around the vessel, where a number of objects have been spotted which investigators believe could turn out to be bodies.

Salvage crews plan to begin pumping more than 2,300 tonnes of diesel from the wreck this week but bad weather has delayed the start of operations expected to take between three weeks and a month.