Pier Paolo Cito  /  AP
FILE - In this Tuesday, Jan. 24, 2012 file photo, a sea platform carrying a crane approaches the grounded cruise ship Costa Concordia off the Tuscan island of Giglio, Italy. Costa Crociere SpA says work to remove the capsized Costa Concordia cruise ship from its rocky perch off Tuscany will begin early next month and is expected to take 12 months. Costa said in a statement Saturday, April 21, 2012, the U.S.-owned company Titan Salvage won the bid to remove the ship, which struck rocks off the tourist-dependent island of Giglio on Jan. 13, when the captain made an unauthorized maneuver too close to shore. (AP Photo/Pier Paolo Cito, File)
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updated 4/21/2012 11:44:28 AM ET 2012-04-21T15:44:28

Salvage work to remove the capsized Costa Concordia cruise ship from its rocky perch off Tuscany, where 32 people died, will begin early next month and is expected to take a year, the Italian owner announced Saturday.

The U.S.-owned company Titan Salvage won the bid to remove the ship, which struck a reef off the tourist-dependent island of Giglio on Jan. 13, after the captain veered off course and steered the liner carrying 4,200 people close to shore in an apparent stunt. Thirty-two passengers and crew members died in the frantic and delayed evacuation. Two of those remain missing.

The salvage plan, which still needs approval by Italian authorities, foresees removing the ship in one piece and towing it to an Italian port, Costa said.

Workers completed the removal of fuel from the Concordia on March 24, and Costa said environmental protection will be a "top priority" during the ship's removal. The island of Giglio is in fishing grounds and falls within a sanctuary for dolphins.

Islanders have expressed concern that the ship's presence and salvage work will disrupt tourism, Giglio's main economic driver.

Giglio Mayor Sergio Ortelli said it is important that the ship be removed in one piece with the least possible impact on the environment, economic and port activities, and that the operation be completed within a year, as foreseen, "so that we can return to normal."

Titan Salvage, based in Pompano Beach, Florida, has performed more than 350 salvage and wreck removal projects since 1980, according to its website. It will partner with Micoperi, an Italian marine contractor that specializes in underwater construction and engineering. Titan was one of six companies bidding for the salvage job.

Salvage crews and their equipment will be based at the nearby port of Civitavecchia in a move aimed minimizing the impact on Giglio's port activities, Costa said.

"As was the case with the removal of the fuel, we have sought to identify the best solution to safeguard the island and its marine environment and to protect its tourism," Costa CEO Pier Luigi Foschi said in a statement.

Capt. Francesco Schettino is accused of abandoning the ship in the middle of a confused evacuation that saw passengers and crew members jump into the water and swim to shore after the ship's tilt made it impossible to lower lifeboats.

Schettino, who is under house arrest and denies wrongdoing, faces possible charges of manslaughter, causing a shipwreck and abandoning ship. Other top officers and Costa officials also face possible charges. Schettino has claimed that the reef, which appears on many tourist maps, wasn't on his navigational charts.

The ship's owner, Costa Crociere SpA, has distanced itself from Schettino, contending he made an "unauthorized" maneuver that took him perilously too close to the island. It has said that only once, in August, was the cruise ship allowed to sail close to Giglio, because of a special occasion on the island.

Copyright 2012 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Photos: Luxury cruise ship Costa Concordia runs aground

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  1. People on lifeboats evacuate the Costa Concordia after it ran aground on Jan. 13, 2012, killing 32 people. The cruise ship is the subject of the biggest salvage operation in maritime history (Giuseppe Modesti / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  2. Passengers arrive at Porto Santo Stefano on Jan. 14 after the Costa Concordia ran aground off the Italian island of Giglio. (Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  3. Costa Concordia cruise liner captain Francesco Schettino is escorted by Italian police on Jan. 14, 2012, in Grosseto. Schettino was arrested on charges of manslaughter, causing a shipwreck and abandoning ship, police said. (Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  4. Firefighters on a dinghy look at a rock emerging from the side of the Costa Concordia on Jan. 15, 2012. (Andrea Sinibaldi / Lapresse via AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  5. A woman looks at the wreck of the Costa Concordia cruise liner on Jan. 16, 2012. (Gregorio Borgia / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  6. A satellite image shows the wreck of the Costa Concordia off the island of Giglio on Jan. 17, 2012. (DigitalGlobe) Back to slideshow navigation
  7. Search and rescue teams continue the search for survivors on the Costa Concordia on Jan. 19, 2012. (Tullio M. Puglia / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  8. Police divers look at the bell of the stricken Costa Concordia luxury liner during their underwater search on Jan. 19, 2012. (Carabinieri via AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  9. Divers make their way into a flooded cabin of the Costa Concordia cruise ship In this undated photo released by the Italian Navy on Jan. 24, 2012. (Italian Navy / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  10. The capsized Costa Concordia cruise ship lies off the snow-covered island of Giglio on Feb. 11, 2012. (Giampiero Sposito / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  11. A boy prepares to snorkel in front of the wreckage of the capsized cruise liner Costa Concordia on Aug. 28, 2012. (Alessandro Bianchi / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  12. The Costa Concordia cruise ship lays near the harbor of Giglio on Oct. 14, 2012. The luxury cruise ship capsized and sank on Jan. 13, 2012, after approaching the Tuscan island of Giglio to perform a manuever close to the shore known as a "salute." (Filippo Monteforte / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  13. Workers stand on the Costa Concordia cruise ship near the port on Jan. 8, 2013 on the Italian island of Giglio. (Filippo Monteforte / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  14. An aerial view, taken from an Italian Navy helicopter, shows the Costa Concordia surrounded by other vessels on Aug. 26. (Alessandro Bianchi / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  15. A diver participates in a search operation Sept. 24, 2013, for two missing bodies onboard the Costa Concordia. The last two missing bodies were recovered on Sept. 26. (Laura Lezza / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  16. Vessels surround the wreck of the Costa Concordia cruise ship during an operation to refloat the boat on July 14, 2014 off the Italian island of Giglio. More than two-and-a-half years after it crashed off in a nighttime disaster which left 32 people dead, the plan is to raise and tow the vessel in an unprecedented and delicate operation for its final journey to the shipyard where it was built in the port of Genoa. (Vincenzo Pinto / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
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