Operations are set to get under way to recover a ship that sunk with hundreds of migrants on board last year in what was considered the worst-ever Mediterranean migration accident at the time, the Italian Navy said Tuesday.
The wreck is 85 nautical miles (about 160 kilometers) off the coast of Libya, at a sea depth of 370 meters. Attempts to recover the vessel began April 27 but were suspended due to bad weather conditions, according to the navy, adding that efforts should resume Wednesday.
Operations were initially scheduled to start April 18, on the disaster's one-year anniversary, but adverse weather forced a delay.
In the immediate aftermath of the shipwreck, rescue teams found 24 bodies and 28 survivors, who recounted that many more people were aboard, including some who could not escape because they were locked inside the hold.
The plan is to lift the vessel using remotely operated robots, cover it up and refrigerate it with liquid nitrogen to conserve the bodies before towing it to the Sicilian NATO naval base at Melilli, where forensic teams will work on identifying the bodies.
The convoy with the wreck should dock at Melilli "not earlier than May 9, depending on weather and sea conditions and possible technical and operational needs," the navy said.
It is unclear how many bodies will be found inside.
The navy said the vessel is presumed to have carried 700 people, and last month an Interior Ministry official said the bodies of 169 victims had been recovered, including those picked up months ago from the top of the wreck and surrounding seabed.
About 150 people are involved in the current recovery project, the navy statement said.
Last year, Prime Minister Matteo Renzi said refloating the ship and attempting to identify the victims was a matter of national pride.
"We will go fetch that boat, the one that sank in last month's carnage, and we will lift it up. I want the whole world to see what happened. It is unacceptable for some people to keep thinking along the lines of 'out of sight, out of mind'," he said.