After getting a thumbs-up from the Italian Government, engineers began the long, delicate process of refloating the warped hull of the Costa Concordia cruise liner on Monday as part of the largest marine salvage operation in history.
“It’s a paramount engineering attempt not just for Italy, but for the whole world,” said Emilio Campana, the director of the research office for naval and maritime engineering at Italy’s National Research Council. “The first risk is that the vessel breaks apart as they lift it. Its structure is damaged and warped. It’s impossible to calculate exactly how it will react.”
Back in September 2013, salvage crews spent a full day rotating the Concordia back into an upright position off Giglio Island, where it ran aground and rolled to its starboard side 30 months ago, claiming 32 lives.
The refloating process involves the use of 30 hollow containers called sponsons that crews have attached to the sides. In the first several hours, pneumatic devices will push water from the hollow sponsons, creating buoyant force that will lift the vessel about seven feet. Following the successful initial raising, tugs will move the Concordia 100 feet east, off of the reef, where they will stabilize it by holding it in place so the sponsons can be better attached to the Concordia’s hull.
Nick Sloane, the senior salvage master for Titan Salvage, the American company in charge of the operation, told the New York Times Monday that he was relieved that the weather was cooperative during the operation and he hopes that Concordia will be stabilized by tonight.
Over the next week, water will continue to be pushed from the sponsons until only 50 feet of the wreck remains submerged. A team of 4 tugs will tow the Concordia 200 nautical miles to the Port of Genoa to be scrapped later this month.
Experts estimate the total cost of the operation could approach $1 billion, not including the dismantling of the ship, much more than the original budget of $300 million.
Once the removal is complete the only remaining issue will be the ongoing criminal trial of the captain, Francesco Schettino, who is facing trial on multiple charges of manslaughter, causing a shipwreck and abandoning the vessel before everyone had disembarked.
“This operation will end only after the ship has been transported to Genoa,” warned Gian Luca Galletti, Italy’s environment minister. “We can’t let our guard down.”