Fuel removal under way on Italy cruise ship

By NICOLE WINFIELD | February 12, 2012 | 12:05 PM EST

Snow covers the rooftops of the houses overlooking the harbour of the Tuscan island of Giglio, Italy, Saturday, Feb. 11, 2012, as the grounded Costa Concordia cruise liner still lays stricken in background. The Concordia ran aground on Jan. 13 after the captain deviated from his planned route and gashed the hull of the ship on a submerged reef. (AP Photo/Paolo Fanciulli)

ROME (AP) — Authorities in Italy say pumping operations have begun to remove some of the 500,000 gallons of fuel aboard the cruise ship that ran aground off Tuscany.

The civil protection department says the fuel extraction operation started Sunday afternoon nearly a month after the Costa Concordia slammed into a reef and capsized off the tiny island of Giglio.

Plans to empty the Concordia's fuel tanks were delayed first by the search and rescue operation and then by nearly two weeks of bad weather. A fuel leak would be disastrous for the pristine waters around Giglio, which are part of a protected maritime sanctuary.

Seventeen people died in the Jan. 13 grounding and 15 are presumed dead.