Two more bodies found in Italy cruise shipwreck

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Rescuers found the bodies of two women in the wreck of an Italian ship on Monday bringing the death toll to 15, as a Dutch company was given the go-ahead to pump out its 2,380 tons of fuel.

The grim discovery near the Costa Concordia cruise liner's Internet cafe came after navy frogmen used explosive to blew open more access points for divers.

"Two more bodies, two women, were found," said Franco Gabrielli, who is overseeing search and rescue operations on the Tuscan island of Giglio.

"We cannot tell what nationality they were. They haven't been extracted" from the half-submerged vessel, he told reporters on the scene.

Gabrielli said that DNA from the corpses would be compared to that of relatives of the missing, some of whom are awaiting anxiously on the shore with no news of their loved ones 10 days after the night-time disaster.

Seventeen people are officially still missing, although officials have emphasised there could have been at least one stowaway, a Hungarian woman, who was not on the list of people on board and is unaccounted for.

Gabrielli said the search of the 114,500-ton ship would continue ‘until all parts of the vessel that can be inspected have been checked out’ and that a complex operation to empty the fuel tanks could be carried out at the same time.

"We have given authorisation for the pumping to begin," he said.

Bart Huizing, a representative of Smit Salvage on the island, said: "We are ready to go. We are ready to start working. If possible tomorrow."

Fuel tanks to be emptied

The operation, known as ‘hot-tapping’, involves pumping the fuel out into a nearby ship and replacing it with water so as not to affect the ship's balance.

Environmentalists say the fuel tanks have to be emptied as soon as possible to avert an environmental catastrophe in Europe's biggest marine sanctuary.

Gabrielli said there has already been some contamination of the sea from toxic substances on board although tests carried out by the environmental agency on samples of sea water near the wreck showed no hydrocarbon pollution.

The coastguard said that emptying the fuel tanks would take 28 days and was expected to start as early as Tuesday. There will be three lines of booms around the ship while the operation is going on to avoid possible spills.

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