The operator of the capsized Italian cruise ship Costa Concordia says work to remove the vessel from its rocky perch off Tuscany will begin early next month and is expected to take 12 months.

Officials said in a statement today that 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.

A total of 32 passengers and crew members died. Two people remain missing and are presumed dead.

The plan anticipates removing the ship in one piece and towing it to an Italian port.

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.


(Copyright 2012 by The Associated Press.  All Rights Reserved.)