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Costa Concordia wreck: Search of cruise ship abandoned

media captionFire brigade spokesman Luca Cari says it is not safe for divers inside the ship

Italian divers have abandoned their search for bodies inside the wrecked cruise ship Costa Concordia after conditions underwater deteriorated.

"We have definitively stopped the underwater search inside the ship," a spokesman for the fire brigade on the island of Giglio said.

Fifteen people are still missing after the ship ran aground off Italy on 13 January with the loss of 17 lives.

Work to recover the capsized vessel may take up to 10 months.

Italy's civil protection agency, which has been overseeing rescue efforts, said it had contacted families of the missing and the foreign embassies involved, to explain its decision.

Emergency crews would continue to inspect the part of the ship that is above the water line and use specialist equipment to check whether there could be any corpses on the sea bed, it said.

The BBC's Alan Johnston in Rome says the decision will add to the anguish suffered by families of those missing.

Fire service spokesman Luca Cari said instruments monitoring the movements of the ship showed that it was no longer safe for divers.

"The indications we received two days ago... have led to a new analysis of the situation. Therefore, the data has been studied by the scientific committee and this has led us to believe that it is no longer possible to work inside."

He said work would continue in dry areas of the ship.

"Our rescue workers are still able to work there, so they are continuing the search. And we are also carrying on with the underwater search outside the ship," he said.

Fuel challenge

Divers have described tricky conditions inside the ship, with submerged cabins and tilted corridors filled with rotting debris.

image captionSearchers have been lowered on to the ship by helicopter

Dives have been limited to a maximum of 50 minutes, making it difficult to penetrate far into the vessel.

At the same time there has been constant concern about the stability of the wreck, perched on a rocky ledge close to deeper water.

Work to pump out more than 2,300 tonnes of diesel from the ship has been hampered by bad weather.

The operation to move the ship itself cannot safely begin until the fuel is removed.

The 114,500-tonne ship ran aground on rocks with more than 4,200 people on board only hours after leaving the Italian port of Civitavecchia.

It hit rocks after being steered by its captain, Francesco Schettino, to within 150m of the tiny island of Giglio.

According to Italian media, the captain told investigators he had decided to sail close to Giglio to salute a former captain who had a home on the Tuscan island.

Captain Schettino is under house arrest in his home town of Meta di Sorrento, near Naples, while his actions are investigated.

He is accused of multiple manslaughter, causing a shipwreck, and abandoning ship before all passengers were evacuated. He denies the allegations.

Costa Crociere, which is part of the world's largest cruise ship operator Carnival Group, has offered uninjured passengers 11,000 euros ($14,500; £9,200) each in compensation, on condition that they drop any legal action.

However, a consumer group and two US law firms are filing a class-action lawsuit in the US, demanding at least $160,000 for each passenger on the ship.