GIGLIO, Italy (AP) — Residents of the Italian island of Giglio were increasingly worried about threats to the environment and their prized tourism industry as bad weather on Monday delayed crews from pumping oil out of the stricken cruise ship on their shore.
Officials have ruled out finding anyone alive more than two weeks after the Costa Concordia hit a reef, and worries are now focusing on the impact the disaster could have on the environment, especially if fuel and chemical pollutants spill from the ship.
"Let's hope we are able to solve everything without pollution," said Giuseppe De Politi, a fisherman on Giglio, off the Tuscan coast. "That's the main worry."
Authorities set off another blast in an underwater compartment of the ship but held off on removing 500,000 gallons of fuel from the Costa Concordia because of rough seas.
Crews worked to collect tons of ship debris dispersed in the surrounding waters, which are prime fishing grounds and part of a protected area for dolphins and whales.
The search for the missing from the Jan. 13 disaster remained suspended. Seventeen bodies have been recovered, while 16 crew and passengers are listed as missing, with one body not yet identified.
Giglio residents were told over the weekend that it could take 10 months to remove the ship, and were holding an island-wide meeting Monday to discuss how to protect their interests.
"They say there is not going to be any environmental damage, but we are not stupid," said Riccardo Vicchianti, the son of a Giglio resident. "The damage to the environment is strong. If I think of just one cabin, it's like throwing a whole bar into the sea. That alone, I think, can pollute with just what it contains. Imagine a floating town!"
Franco Gabrielli, the head of the national civil protection agency and the official who has overseen the rescue effort, said authorities are now focusing on preventing environmental 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.
Experts have said it would take a month to remove fuel from the 15 tanks accounting for more than 80 percent 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.
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.
Gabrielli says 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.
Copyright 2012 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.
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