Concordia fuel extraction to begin

2012-01-23 20:30

Giglio Island - Italy's civil protection agency on Monday gave the go-ahead for 2 380 tons of fuel inside the stricken Costa Concordia cruise ship to be pumped out to avoid environmental damage.

"We have given authorisation for the pumping to begin," agency chief Franco Gabrielli, who is overseeing operations on the Tuscan island of Giglio, told reporters, adding that rescue activities could continue at the same time.

Dutch salvage company Smit has already been hired to do the pumping work in an operation known as "hot tapping", which environmentalists say is crucial to avert a potential ecological catastrophe in Europe's biggest marine sanctuary.

The coastguard said that emptying the fuel tanks would take 28 days and was expected to start as early as Tuesday. Officials also said that 130 volunteers were ready to intervene immediately to clean up the coast if there was a spill.

Smit workers will pump the fuel into a nearby ship and pump in water at the same time so as not to affect the ship's balance. There will be three lines of booms around the ship while the operation is going on to avoid possible spills.

Gabrielli said there had already been some "contamination" from the ship - mainly due to substances that were on board, not fuel from the tanks.

Italy's environmental protection agency said on its website that tests on water samples around the wreck had not found any hydrocarbons so far.

Gabrielli also said that emergency workers were trying to clear out the inside of the wreckage, saying that the decomposition of food products, the clutter of furniture and the turbid waters were "complicating" the work.

"The ship is stable so there is no need for outside intervention. There is no problem, no danger of the ship sinking further," he said, in response to fears that the vessel, lying half-submerged on its side, was slipping into the open sea.

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