Italian rescue officials announced an end Tuesday to all underwater search efforts for those still missing from the shipwreck of the Costa Concordia, citing safety concerns for the scuba divers inspecting the half-sunken vessel, reported dpa.
"Objectively, conditions are no longer those that can safeguard those operating the search activities inside the hull," said Italy's Civil Protection service chief, Franco Gabrielli.
Gabrielli cited shifts in the vessel's position since it ran aground on January 13, which have repeatedly interrupted the underwater search efforts.
Some 15 people remain unaccounted for, after the Concordia ran aground near the island of Giglio, off Italy's western coast.
A total of 17 have been confirmed dead.
The ship is lodged on the underwater boulders upon which it ran aground, but still can tilt as it settles.
"This situation is not safe for the divers," Luca Cari, a spokesman for Italy's fire service - which has been carrying out the searches - told television news channel Sky TG 24.
The decision to definitively halt the underwater search had been communicated to the relatives of the people who remain unaccounted for, ANSA news agency reported.
Search efforts would instead continue in parts of the 290 metre-vessel that remain above water, and in an 18-square-kilometre area of the Mediterranean around the ship, officials said.
According to Pierluigi Foschi, the president of Costa Crociere which owns the Concordia, efforts to remove some 2,300 tons of potentially environmentally hazardous fuel would begin "within 24 hours" if weather conditions permit.
The pumping of fuel from the vessel's tanks had been delayed while officials gave priority to the search for survivors and the recovery of bodies from the wreck.
Foschi, who was speaking Tuesday during a briefing on the accident to a commission of Italy's Senate in Rome, also said that it would not be possible to repair the Concordia once the vessel had been removed from the shoal where it is lodged.
Gabrielli said earlier this week that the removal of the ship, which lies a few hundred metres from Giglio's picturesque port, could take as long as 10 months.
The municipality of Giglio island, whose inhabitants mostly earn their income from tourists, said it may sue Genoa-based Costa Crociere over damages stemming from the disaster.
The Concordia's captain, Francesco Schettino, remains under house arrest while prosecutors seek to have him indicted on charges of manslaughter, causing a shipwreck and abandoning ship.
He has reportedly admitted to veering the vessel off course, causing it to crash against rocks near Giglio. However, he insists he helped coordinate the evacuation, but was forced to do so from Giglio's docks after slipping off the listing ship into a lifeboat.
On Monday, Costa Crociere's parent company, the US-based Carnival Corporation, said bookings for future cruises had gone "down significantly" in the weeks following the accident, compared to a year earlier.