This morning, officials announced that yet another body had been found in the remains of the Costa Concordia. The body was found on the third floor deck of the stricken vessel. It is rumored to be that of a woman, although officials have not confirmed this.
With the new body, the official number of missing persons has lowered to 17, with 16 bodies having been recovered. However, the interjection of an official yesterday that there may be up to 25 persons still missing raised speculation that there may be as many as 8 stowaways (unregistered passengers) missing. One of the two bodies recovered yesterday in the Internet Café of the ship is rumored to have been that of a stowaway.
Rescuers are continuing to blast holes in the hull of the once-great liner in order to access its' innards. Meanwhile, the fuel-removing operation for the Costa Concordia has been given the green light. The plan to remove 500,000 gallons of fuel from the ship will cost $5 million and take almost three months, weather allowing. Smit Salvaging, the Dutch company in charge of the operation, has 55 workers on the project.
The pumping operation, which will use a process called 'hot-tapping' that replaces fuel with water in order to maintain the same weight throughout the process, will begin on six tanks located in a more accessible part of the ship. The tanks contain 50% of the fuel on the ship, said Francesco Gabrielli, who is in charge of the Concordia rescue operations, to the press.
In preparation to begin pumping, Smit is scheduled to bring in some helper vessels, including a giant tanker that will be pipelined to the Costa Concordia. The tanker will be responsible for the exchange of seawater for fuel. According to a Smit representative, 80 tons of equipment will be used in the operation.
The pumping project was made a priority after an oil film was spotted about 300 meters away from the wreck of the Concordia yesterday. Although workers have already taken care of the film, which representatives said was too thin to be of much environmental concern, the film raised the hackles of environmentalists and residents of Giglio Island. Giglio Island is a beautiful vacation destination known for its' pristine Mediterranean waters, and the largest marine sanctuary in Europe for dolphins, whales and porpoises is located nearby. A fuel leak could spoil the waters and potentially kill off sea life.
Island locals are reportedly excited that the fuel pumping operation is underway.
"I'm glad they are getting to work on removing the fuel. If it leaks out of the tanks then it will be a catastrophe for the island," said Franca Melis, who owns a restaurant on the island. "We live on tourism and if the beaches are covered in fuel then no-one will come here. We have fantastic diving here on Giglio but who will want to come here if the sea is covered in diesel?"
Captain Francesco Schettino remains the principle suspect in the case.