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Diver killed while working on Costa Concordia wreckage in Italy, reports say he gashed his leg

FILE -- In this undated file photo released by the Italian Fire Brigade, Vigili del Fuoco, Tuesday, Jan. 31, 2012, firemen scuba divers check one of the propellers of the luxury cruise ship Costa Concordia that run ashore off the Tuscany island of Isola del Giglio, Italy. A diver has died Saturday, Feb. 1, 2014, while working on the shipwrecked Costa Concordia in Italy. The consortium of firms working to prepare the Concordia for removal says the Spanish diver died Saturday while working underwater in the area around the wreckage site. (AP Photo/Vigili del Fuoco)

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FILE -- In this undated file photo released by the Italian Fire Brigade, Vigili del Fuoco, Tuesday, Jan. 31, 2012, firemen scuba divers check one of the propellers of the luxury cruise ship Costa Concordia that run ashore off the Tuscany island of Isola del Giglio, Italy. A diver has died Saturday, Feb. 1, 2014, while working on the shipwrecked Costa Concordia in Italy. The consortium of firms working to prepare the Concordia for removal says the Spanish diver died Saturday while working underwater in the area around the wreckage site. (AP Photo/Vigili del Fuoco)

ROME - A diver died Saturday while working on the shipwrecked Costa Concordia, apparently gashing his leg on an underwater metal sheet while preparing the wreck for removal, officials and news reports said.

Italy's civil protection agency, which is overseeing the removal of the Concordia from Tuscany's coast, said the diver hailed from Spain.

Tuscany's La Nazione newspaper said the diver had been working on preparations to affix huge tanks onto sides of the Concordia to float the ship off its false seabed and tow it to a port for eventual dismantling. It said he apparently gashed his leg on an underwater metal sheet and was then unable to get free, bleeding profusely before a diver colleague was able to bring him to the surface. The report said he was conscious upon surfacing but later died.

The diver, who wasn't identified by authorities, is the first to die in the line of work on salvaging the Concordia ever since it slammed into a reef off Giglio island on Jan. 13, 2012, killing 32 passengers and crew. A diver died last year, but the causes were reportedly unrelated to the work.

The Concordia was righted in preparation for removal during a remarkable, 19-hour engineering feat last fall in which a system of pulleys wrenched the 300-meter-long (1,000-foot-long), 115,000-ton cruise ship from its side to vertical. A dozen giant tanks were affixed to its exposed port side and filled with water to help pull the ship upright.

The current project that the diver was working on was to prepare the starboard side, which had been underwater until the ship was righted, to hold a similar number of tanks.

The tanks will be emptied of water and used to literally float the wreck off the seabed, so it can be towed away from Giglio, brought to a port and taken apart for scrap. Officials say they hope to have it removed by June.

The 600 million euro ($810 million) removal project, which has already run nearly twice its original cost estimates, is the most ambitious ever attempted for a ship the size of the Concordia.

In a statement, the head of the civil protection agency, Franco Gabrielli, expressed condolences for the death and recalled the dedication of people working on the wreckage, saying they had worked "for two years without a break, in difficult conditions not without risks, to achieve the common goal of removing the Concordia from Giglio."

The ship's captain is currently on trial for manslaughter, causing a shipwreck and leaving the ship before all passengers were evacuated. Prosecutors have accused him of taking the ship off course in a stunt to bring it closer to Giglio. Capt. Francesco Schettino has said he saved lives by steering the ship to shallow waters after it ran aground on a reef that wasn't on his nautical charts.

On Friday, Italy's highest court let stand plea bargains reached by five other Costa employees.

Costa is a unit of Miami-based Carnival Corp., the world's largest cruise line.

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Follow Nicole Winfield at www.twitter.com/nwinfield

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