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Italy ends search for underwater missing in wreck

January 31, 2012 12:00:00 AM PST
The search for missing passengers on board the Italian cruise ship that ran aground is essentially over. Authorities are calling off the search because part of the ship is unstable, and it's too dangerous for rescue workers.

Italy's Civil Protection agency said Tuesday that technical studies indicated the deformed hull of the ship created too many safety concerns to continue the search within it. Relatives of the missing and diplomatic officials representing their countries have been informed of the decision, it said in a statement.

The search for the missing will continue along the coastline and in the waters surrounding the Costa Concordia.

The last time anyone was found alive was Jan. 15.

The Costa Concordia hit a reef Jan. 13 when the captain deviated from his planned route, creating a huge gash that capsized the ship. More than 4,200 people were on board.

Seventeen bodies have been recovered since the accident. Sixteen people are listed as missing, but they are presumed dead.

Italian authorities are now focusing their attention on preventing an environmental disaster. The ship contains about 500,000 gallons of heavy fuel and other pollutants, and fears are growing that those pollutants could spill out, damaging a pristine environment that is home to dolphins, whales and other marine life.

Franco Gabrielli, the head of Italy's civil protection agency, said it could take a full seven to 10 months to remove the ship.

See photos of the cruise ship Costa Concordia off the coast of Italy.

The Associated Press contributed to this story.