GIGLIO, Italy -- Italian rescuers Tuesday permanently called off the underwater search for bodies in the stricken Costa Concordia cruise ship after conditions became too dangerous for the divers.

"We have definitively stopped the underwater search inside the ship," a spokesman for the fire brigade on the island of Giglio was quoted as saying by AFP, citing the difficult conditions.
Italy's ANSA news agency also reported that the search operation inside submerged parts of then ship was at an end.

The search will continue in parts of the ship that are above water, as well as in the surrounding waters, ANSA reported.

The priority now is to safely remove the fuel from the vessel, amid fears of environmental damage, the report said.

So far, poor weather conditions have prevented any of the estimated 2,380 tons (2,159 tonnes) of fuel from being extracted from the ship's 23 tanks. The ship is perched on rocks, raising fears it could tumble to the sea floor.

The cruise ship ran aground Jan. 13 with some 4,200 people aboard and is lying on its side off the Tuscan island. A total of 17 bodies were recovered, and 15 people remain missing. Among those missing is the Minnesota couple Jerry and Barbara Heil.

Francesco Schettino, the captain of the ship, is under house arrest facing charges of manslaughter and abandoning ship.