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Paris prosecutor to probe Italian cruise grounding

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February 2, 2012 06:39 AM EST | AP

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PARIS — The Paris prosecutor has opened a preliminary investigation into the grounding off the Italian coast of the Costa Concordia cruise ship that killed at least 17 people.

The prosecutor's office said Thursday it has asked police to investigate claims filed in France. The Ministry of Justice had already asked the Paris office to handle all of the complaints, regardless of where they were originally filed.

More than 450 French citizens were aboard the Concordia when it ran aground Jan. 13 off the Tuscan island of Giglio after the captain deviated from his planned route and struck a reef. The captain risks being charged with manslaughter, causing a shipwreck and abandoning the ship before all those aboard were evacuated.

Seventeen people, including four from France, have been confirmed dead. Two French are among the 15 still missing and presumed dead.

The capsize of the giant luxury liner is also posing an environmental hazard to pristine Italian waters. A thin film of oil has spread from the cruise ship as waves battered the wreckage Wednesday.

The ship contains about 500,000 gallons (2,400 tons) of heavy fuel and other pollutants, and fears have grown that those chemicals could damage an area that is home to dolphins, whales and other marine life.

Authorities hoping to pump fuel soon from the ship but bad weather has prevented those efforts from beginning.