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2 more bodies recovered from Costa Concordia

By the CNN Wire Staff
January 23, 2012 -- Updated 1821 GMT (0221 HKT)
A view of the stricken luxury liner Costa Concordia off the Isola del Giglio on January 22, 2012.
A view of the stricken luxury liner Costa Concordia off the Isola del Giglio on January 22, 2012.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • NEW: A class-action suit will be filed against the cruise line and its parent company, group says
  • The discoveries announced Monday raise the number of confirmed victims to 15
  • Salvage workers will start to remove fuel from the Costa Concordia
  • The head of the operation says no fuel has leaked from the ship yet

Lea el artículo en español/Read the article in Spanish

Giglio, Italy (CNN) -- Two more bodies have been recovered from the wreck of the cruise ship Costa Concordia, Italian officials announced Monday, bringing the number of confirmed victims of the accident to 15.

The two women were found on Bridge 4, near the ship's Internet cafe, said Franco Gabrielli, the official in charge of the operation.

About 17 people remain missing after the ship collided with rocks January 13 off the coast of Tuscany, according to a CNN count.

Salvage workers are to begin pumping fuel out of the liner Monday, Gabrielli said.

"Salvage will start any minute," Adm. Ilarione Dell'Anna said Monday afternoon. It will take 28 working days to remove all the fuel from the ship, the admiral said.

The search for survivors and victims will continue alongside the salvage, said Gabrielli, the head of Italy's civil protection agency.

The man in charge of the rescue operation said the divers faced a grim task.

"Imagine that you left for holidays and that the power went off in your house. What would you find in your fridge? The divers are in there," Ennio Aquilino said.

Two more bodies were found over the weekend -- one woman on Saturday and one on Sunday, both wearing life jackets.

Divers used explosives Monday morning to blow more holes in the side of the ship to allow easier access.

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The parties involved in the rescue told reporters and residents on the island Sunday that search and rescue efforts will continue -- but that the environmental risk is also becoming urgent.

Officials said they cannot predict how long it will take to clear the wreckage, since that depends on maritime conditions and technical difficulties, but all legal, environmental and human factors will be taken into account.

"It's time for Italy to show it can do something right and do it well," said Gabrielli.

Gabrielli warned that the task ahead was complicated and daunting, not least because it takes about 45 minutes to search each cabin, using special cameras and divers.

The giant Costa Concordia had 1,500 cabins on board.

A class-action lawsuit will be filed in Miami against Costa and its parent company, Carnival Corp., the Italian consumer group Codacons said on Saturday. The suit, in collaboration with two U.S. law firms, is "aimed specifically at getting compensation for all damages to the boat passengers," Codacons said in a statement. The class-action suit is open to passengers of any nationality, it said.

"We've been contacted by hundreds of victims and the numbers are growing moment by moment," said Mitchell Proner, senior partner at Proner & Proner, one of two firms involved. He said crew members have also contacted the firm, "and their stories that are coming in are horrific -- from lifeboats that were stuck halfway, passengers debating whether to jump or not, this was not an orderly evacuation."

The suit, he said, will request at least 125,000 euros (about $160,000) per passenger.

The suit has not yet been filed, said Marc Bern, senior partner at the other firm, Napoli Bern Ripka Shkolnik, but "it will probably be in the billions of euros and dollars."

"The sheer terror of being on a ship of that magnitude going down, you can imagine the psychological damage," Bern said.

Gabrielli said no fuel oil had yet leaked from the ship -- only kitchen and engine oil -- and that he did not see an immediate risk of the 2,400 tons on board escaping.

Booms have been put in place around the ship to stop the spread of oil and other pollutants such as detergents and sewage chemicals. With more than 4,000 people aboard, the ship was the size of a small town, Gabrielli said.

Fuel will be replaced with water as it is removed from the ship's tanks, keeping the ship balanced, said Dell'Anna, head of coastal authorities for the port city of Livorno.

Gabrielli said Costa Cruises, the company that owns the cruise ship, is cooperative and was proving responsible, despite past errors.

Both Costa Cruises and authorities have criticized Capt. Francesco Schettino, who is under house arrest and faces possible charges of manslaughter, shipwreck and abandoning ship.

Prosecutors said they planned to appeal the judge's decision to grant Schettino house arrest, arguing that Schettino should remain in jail because he is a flight risk and because of the gravity of his alleged crimes.

Alessandro Antichi, partner of Schettino defense attorney Bruno Leporatti, said the defense plans to file its appeal Wednesday on the judge's ruling. The defense maintains Schettino should not be in custody.

An audio recording obtained by Italy's Repubblica newspaper and published Saturday shows that the captain, at least at the outset of the incident, assured authorities he would do the right thing.

Prosecutors have accused the captain of piloting the ship too fast to allow him to react to dangers, causing the shipwreck, according to legal papers.

There were roughly 4,200 people on the Costa Concordia when it ran aground -- about 3,200 passengers and 1,000 crew members. The vast majority fled the ship safely.

CNN's Dan Rivers, Livia Borghese, Hada Messia, Marilia Brocchetto, Vivian Kuo and journalist Barbie Nadeau contributed to this report.

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