GIGLIO, Italy (AP) — Searchers on Thursday found three bodies under the hull of the shipwrecked Costa Concordia cruise ship that capsized off an Italian island in January, an official said, raising the number of bodies found so far to 28 and leaving four still missing.
Civil Protection agency chief Franco Gabrielli did not give details on the sex or ages of the victims. He told reporters on the island that the three bodies were spotted when divers were working to set up a kind of robot to search otherwise inaccessible parts of the wreck.
The bodies were seen "in the spaces between the hull and the seabed," he said. It was not clear when they could be removed.
All of the other bodies had been found inside the ship, except for three found in the sea near the ship in the first hours after the accident. The remaining missing are presumed dead.
The ship hit a rocky reef, took on water and turned over just outside the port of the tiny island of Giglio off Tuscany on Jan. 13. Divers and searchers have been combing the half-submerged ship, from passenger cabins to elevators to the decks where many of the 4,200 passengers and crew gathered during the delayed and frantic evacuation. Many jumped into the sea when lifeboats were unable to be launched because of the ship's tilt.
Even before the latest bodies were found, eight removed in recent weeks were awaiting official identification. Weeks in the water badly decomposed the remains, and forensic authorities have used DNA sampling to try to identify them.
Among those listed missing or unidentified are a crew member from India and several passengers, including an elderly U.S. couple and others from Italy and Germany.
The Concordia capsized in a protected sea sanctuary, and salvage teams have been removing fuel since Feb. 12 in hopes of sparing the pristine waters from pollution. Costa Crociere SpA., the Italian cruise company, and Italian officials said fuel removal was expected to be completed by Friday evening.
Occasional bad weather and choppy seas have at times forced suspension of both the search for bodies and the fuel removal.
The operation to remove the wrecked Concordia itself could take as long as 12 months. Bids for the job are being evaluated.
The Concordia's Italian captain is under house arrest near Naples. Capt. Francesco Schettino is under investigation for alleged manslaughter, causing a shipwreck and abandoning ship during the evacuation. Schettino has denied wrongdoing and claimed that the reef wasn't marked on charts.
Investigators are probing allegations that Schettino deliberately came too close to the island as part of a publicity stunt for the cruise line. Costa Crociere officials have distanced themselves from Schettino.