- Associated Press - Thursday, March 22, 2012

GIGLIO, Italy (AP) — Searchers on Thursday found three more bodies in the wreckage of the CostaConcordia cruise ship that capsized off the Italian coast, an official said, raising the number discovered 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, and it was not immediately clear where the bodies were spotted. 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 the Tuscan coast 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.

Even before the latest bodies were found, eight discovered in recent weeks still 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 skipper, Capt. Francesco Schettino, is under house arrest near Naples. He is under investigation for alleged manslaughter, causing a shipwreck and abandoning ship during the evacuation. Capt. Schettino has denied wrongdoing and has claimed that the reef wasn’t marked on charts.

Investigators are probing allegations that Capt. 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 the captain.