24/01/2012 05:32 GMT | Updated 24/01/2012 10:21 GMT

Costa Concordia: Oil Salvage Operation Underway As Death Toll Rises

Salvage crews are preparing to pump thousands of tonnes of fuel from the wreckage of the Costa Concordia as the search continues for bodies.

The work begins 11 days after the cruise liner ran aground off the Tuscan coast, killing 16.

Barges loaded with drills, pipes and other equipment are moored alongside the tilting ship as the salvage experts get to work.

Engineers from Dutch firm Smit – who helped raise the wreck of the Kursk Russian nuclear submarine – are at the site, the Telegraph reported.

The company has estimated it will take between four and six weeks to safely empty the vessel’s fuel tanks, with the actual pumping of fuel set to begin within two days.

Officials have dismissed reports that oil has started to leak from the ship, Reuters said.

Latest reports said that at least 16 of the 4,200 passengers on board at the time of the crash are still missing, and that only eight of the bodies discovered so far have been identified.

Officials have said it is possible more than 16 bodies will be found due to unregistered passengers who may have been on board.

The clock is ticking for the search because the craft is perched precariously on a rocky ledge of seabed near Giglio, part of a seven-island archipelago.

"We are asking the 4,000 persons who were on board to give any information they can about any of the persons still missing," said Alain Litzler, a Frenchman who is the father of missing passenger Mylene Litzler.

"We need precise information to help the search and rescue teams find them."

The ship’s captain, Francesco Schettino, has been blamed for the tragedy and is under house arrest, accused of multiple manslaughter and abandoning ship before the evacuation of the ships 4,200 passengers and crew was complete.

Meanwhile it has been reported that the owners of Costa Concordia have offered survivors of the tragedy a 30 per cent discount off future cruises.

The gesture – which has been branded “insulting” - comes as the firm battles to stave off lawsuits that are likely to cost it hundreds of millions of pounds.

More than 100 passengers are believed to be preparing to sue the owners of the ship.

As the firm tries to limit the damage from impending lawsuits, it has also been reported passengers are receiving phone calls asking if they need counselling, information about how to claim for lost valuables and offering full refunds for the doomed voyage.