Costa Concordia fuel removal operation begins

The oil tanker Elba and oil recovery sea platform Meloria are seen near the capsized cruise liner Costa Concordia on 12 February
Image caption There have been fears of a fuel leak from the stricken liner

Pumping to remove more than 2,300 tonnes of fuel from the grounded Costa Concordia cruise ship has started, Italian officials have said.

It began on Sunday afternoon, nearly a month after the ship hit a reef and capsized off the island of Giglio.

The process had been delayed by both the search and rescue operation and bad weather, prompting fears of a leak into the protected waters off the island.

Seventeen people died when the ship capsized and 15 more are presumed dead.

Its captain has been accused in Italy of manslaughter, causing a shipwreck and abandoning ship before all those aboard were evacuated.

Prosecutors in France have also launched an investigation, given that four French nationals died and two others are among the missing.

The captain, Francesco Schettino, denies wrongdoing.

Crane barge

Dutch salvage company Smit is conducting the operation to pump out the fuel, which is expected to take about four weeks to complete.

It will concentrate on the first of 15 tanks that are believed to hold around 84% of the fuel on board, the AP news agency quoted Italy's civil protection department as saying.

Valves will be fixed to the tanks, allowing oil to be pumped through a hose on to a crane barge alongside the vessel. From there the oil will be transferred to a waiting oil tanker.

As oil is removed, water will be forced in via a second hose to fill the vacuum.

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