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Official: Miracle to find cruise ship survivors

Recovery efforts at the site of the cruise ship disaster off the coast of Italy has entered a new phase Tuesday, with crews ready to remove oil from the wreckage. NBC's Michelle Kosinski reports.

Updated at 11:15 a.m. ET: GIGLIO, Italy -- The official overseeing the search effort of the capsized Costa Concordia has acknowledged it would take a miracle to find any survivors from the Jan. 13 cruise ship grounding.

Franco Gabrielli, head of the national civil protection agency, told reporters Wednesday that recovery operations would nevertheless continue until the ship, which is half-submerged off the Tuscan island of Giglio, was searched as much as possible.

Operations continued Wednesday as crews set off more explosions on the submerged third floor deck to allow easier access for divers. On Tuesday, the body of a woman was found on the deck.

Rescuers have found 16 bodies. At least six of the bodies remain unidentified, and are presumed to be among some of the 17 passengers and crew still unaccounted for.

The Concordia ran aground and capsized off the island of Giglio on Jan. 13 after the captain veered from his planned course and gashed the ship's hull on a reef, forcing the panicked evacuation of 4,200 passengers and crew.

Citing Italian civil protection officials, NBC News reports that a woman was identified Wednesday, but no name has been released yet. Officials also said that bodies may have floated away in recent days and that it may take more time to find victims of the accident.  Divers are now limited to searching for 20 minutes at a time as a result of poor conditions.

On Tuesday, the U.S. ambassador to Italy David Thorne was at Giglio's port with relatives of two missing Americans, Gerald and Barbara Heil of Minnesota. The Heil's children posted on their blog Monday that they are still waiting for word about their parents. The Heils are the only Americans missing in the wreck.

The search and rescue operation will continue in tandem with the fuel removal operation.

Workers kept up preparations to remove a half-million gallons of fuel from the ship before it leaks into the Tuscan sea. Pumping is expected to begin Saturday, and according to officials, tests will begin Wednesday.

Spokesman Martin Schuttevaer said "based on what we have seen the position of the tanks are in line with what we expected."

Officials have identified an initial six tanks that will be tapped, located in a relatively easy-to-reach area of the ship. Gabrielli told reporters Tuesday that once the tanks are emptied, 50 percent of the fuel aboard the ship will have been extracted.

The pumping will continue 24 hours a day barring rough seas or technical glitches in this initial phase, he said.

Survivors of the Costa Concordia are realizing the limits of their legal claims, as they signed away their rights when they bought their tickets. NBC's Kerry Sanders reports on what travelers should know.

The wife of the captain accused of grounding the Costa Concordia cruise ship said in an interview published Tuesday she was outraged over the way her husband had been portrayed by the media.

Captain Francesco Schettino, who is charged with multiple manslaughter and with abandoning ship before the evacuation of passengers and crew was complete, has told prosecutors he had been instructed to perform the maneuver by operator Costa Cruises.

"My husband is at the center of an unprecedented media storm," his wife, Fabiola Rossi, told French magazine Paris Match. "I cannot think of any other naval or air tragedy in which the responsible party was treated with such violence ... This is a man hunt, people are looking for a scapegoat, a monster."

Schettino has been branded a coward in Italian newspapers, after a recording of his conversation with a coast guard agent during the disaster was leaked to the press and widely circulated on the Web.

Asked if she was angry about his treatment, she said "wouldn't you be?"

He is "someone determined, firm and lucid. He is able to analyze situations, to understand and manage them. At home he is organized and meticulous, and otherwise he is a friendly and funny person who earns people's esteem," Rossi added in a version of the interview published on Paris Match's website.

In the recording with the coast guard, Schettino sounds bewildered and out of control as he is ordered back onto the ship and threatened with arrest.

Schettino's lawyer, who says his client admits partial responsibility for the disaster, is seeking to widen the investigation to include third parties with whom he was in contact, notably from ship owners, Costa Cruises.

The company, a unit the world's largest cruise ship operator Carnival Corp, has suspended Schettino and declared itself an injured party in the case. It has said "unfortunate human error" by Schettino caused the disaster.

Giglio and its waters are part of a protected seven-island marine park, favored by VIPs and known for its clear waters and porpoises, dolphins and whales.

The disaster prompted the U.N. cultural organization to ask the Italian government to restrict access of large cruise ships to Venice, which is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. UNESCO charged that the liners cause water tides that erode building foundations, pollute the waterways and are an eyesore.

DigitalGlobe

The Costa Concordia, carrying more than 4,200 passengers, ran aground Jan. 13 off the coast of Italy. At least 15 people died in the accident, and rescuers continue to search for others missing.

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The Associated Press and Reuters contributed to this report.