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Company's offer of discount trips for Italian cruise disaster survivors called 'insulting'

Italy Cruise Aground

Jan. 23, 2012: The grounded cruise ship Costa Concordia lies on its side off the Tuscan island of Giglio, Italy. (AP)

The company behind the doomed cruise ship that crashed this month off the coast of Italy, killing at least 15, has sparked renewed outrage, this time for its attempts to make amends -- in particular its offer to survivors of a 30 percent discount on future cruises.

The offer was made as Costa Cruises attempts to stave off lawsuits and limit liability from the deadly crash of the Costo Concordia, which the company has blamed on recklessness on the part of the captain.

"The company is trying to do everything they can for those passengers directly affected," a spokesman told the U.K. Telegraph. "The company is not only going to refund everybody, but they will offer a 30 percent discount on future cruises if they want to stay loyal to the company."

That may not be much of an enticement, after the Concordia rammed a reef and capsized Jan. 13 off the tiny Tuscan island of Giglio, sending its 4,200 passengers and crew scrambling.

The corpses of two women were found Monday in the luxury liner's Internet cafe, now 55 feet underwater, bringing the number of bodies found to 15. Most of them were in the submerged portion of the vessel, and 17 others remain unaccounted for.

Brian Page, a British passenger who survived the disaster, told the Telegraph the cruise's offer of compensation was laughable.

"It's a ridiculous and insulting offer," he told the newspaper, suggesting he would pursue legal action. "They are not accepting their responsibilities at all."

The newspaper noted that a class action set to be filed soon in Miami reportedly will seek $150,000 to $1.5 million per passenger.

At the same time, salvage efforts continue. Nudged gently by the tides off Tuscany, the Costa Concordia has been deemed stable enough on its rocky perch for salvagers to begin pumping fuel oil from its giant tanks as early as Tuesday.

Salvage experts received the green light Monday to start pumping fuel soon from the double-lined tanks of the Concordia. The weekslong fuel-removal operation aims to avert a possible environmental catastrophe in the waters off Giglio, part of a protected seven-island marine park.

Officials said the pumping would be carried out as divers continue the search for the missing since instrument readings have determined the Concordia was not at risk of sliding into deeper waters and being swallowed by the sea.

"The ship is stable," said Franco Gabrielli, head of the national civil protection agency. "There is no problem or danger that it is about to drop onto much lower seabed."

Meanwhile, an oily film was spotted about 300 yards from the capsized vessel by officials flying in a helicopter and by residents of Giglio, Gabrielli's office said. Samples were being analyzed, but preliminary observations indicated the slick is a light oil and not from heavy fuel inside the Concordia's tanks.

Absorbent panels put around the area seem to have at least partially absorbed the oil, authorities said.

The ship's Italian captain, Francesco Schettino, is under house arrest near Naples, facing possible charges of manslaughter, causing a shipwreck and abandoning his vessel while some people were still aboard. He has insisted that he was coordinating rescue operations from a lifeboat and then from shore.

The ship's operator has distanced itself from the captain, contending he made an unauthorized detour from the ship's authorized route. Schettino, however, has reportedly told investigators that Costa officials requested that he sail close to Giglio in a publicity move.

In a statement issued late Monday, Costa said it would refund passengers the full cost of the cruise and reimburse all travel and any medical expenses incurred as a result of the accident.

Schettino's lawyer, Bruno Leporatti, told reporters Monday that tests on urine and hair samples showed his client was not under the influence of alcohol or drugs before the crash. Prosecutors are not allowed to discuss the investigation while it is under way and it was impossible to confirm the report.

Despite earlier fears, officials said the crippled cruise ship, with a 230-foot gash in its hull, is not expected to roll off its rocky seabed perch and be swallowed by the sea.

Seven bodies still await identification. Gabrielli said officials have DNA from the relatives of all of the missing passengers and are working to confirm their names.

On Monday, the body of a woman found in the ship a few days earlier was identified as that of a 30-year-old Italian woman, a new bride who was on the Mediterranean cruise with several family members.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.