31/01/2012 15:00 GMT | Updated 31/01/2012 17:17 GMT

Costa Concordia: Rescue Called Off

Costa Concordia rescuers have called off their search for bodies in the submerged parts of the wrecked ship after conditions underwater deteriorated.

"We have definitively stopped the underwater search inside the ship," a spokesman is reported as telling the BBC.

The Italian authorities are believed to have made the decision after the families of the 15 people still unaccounted for had been informed. A total of 17 bodies have been recovered so far.

The search will continue in un-submerged sections of the ship and in waters up to 18 square kilometres around the vessel, the Telegraph reported.

The shelf of rock on which the liner rests is a dangerous precipice, as if the boat sinks further down, oil tanks could rupture, causing a major environmental disaster.

The liner carries over 500,000 gallons of fuel which has to be pumped out of the vessel before the wreck can be removed.

Just removing the oil could take up to 28 days. However dismantling the ship and removing it from the water could take up until August, another hit for the small island of Giglio, traditionally a popular tourist hot spot for summer holiday makers.

Prosecutors have accused Captain Francesco Schettino of manslaughter, causing a shipwreck and abandoning his ship while passengers were still stranded.

The liner ran aground off the island of Giglio on 13 January when the captain deviated from his planned route and struck a reef, creating a huge gash that capsized the ship.

Schettino, who is currently under house arrest, had insisted to authorities everything was fine, shortly before the ship keeled over off the Tuscan coast with 4,200 on board.