An unprecedented operation to right the Costa Concordia began today off the Italian island of Giglio, where the cruise liner has been lying on its side since it capsized 20 months ago, killing 32 passengers.
The parbuckling, or vertical rotation, is part of a removal plan costing about €600 million ($801 million), according to Beniamino Maltese, chief financial officer of Carnival Corp’s Costa Crociere SpA Italian unit, which owns the ship. After the righting, which will last as long as 12 hours, the 114,500-ton ship will rest on underwater platforms, built under the hull using 18,000 tons of cement, for several months before being towed to an Italian port to be broken up.
“There’s no plan B,” Franco Gabrielli, head of Italy’s civil protection agency in charge of the Concordia emergency, said at a press conference Sept. 12 in Rome. “The possibility of the ship breaking up is remote.” The main risk is that liquids flow from the wreck, he said.
The Concordia, with 4,200 passengers and crew, rammed into rocks and partially sank off the Tuscan coast on Jan. 13, 2012. Its captain, Francesco Schettino, is the only defendant in a criminal trial after being indicted earlier this year on charges including manslaughter and abandoning the ship while many passengers were still on board. Schettino, who has always denied any wrongdoing, saying his actions saved lives, faces as many as 20 years in jail if convicted, according to prosecutor Francesco Verusio.
The operation to lift the 952-foot (290-meter) ship started at about 9 a.m. local time after being delayed for about three hours due to a storm overnight, the team in charge of the parbuckling said on its website. Florida-based Titan Salvage and Italy’s Micoperi, with a team of 500 salvage workers from 21 countries, were picked for the removal.
The Concordia’s final destination has still to be decided after a number of Italian ports expressed interest in scrapping the wrecked ship, Gabrielli said.
“It is not of course the first parbuckling in history, but it’s certainly an unprecedented operation, given the size of the ship, the lack of support and the artificial sea bed that was made,” Costa Crociere’s Project Manager Franco Porcellacchia said at last week’s press conference.
Prosecutors from Grosseto who investigated the accident will be in Giglio during the operations, which will reveal submerged parts of the ship that were never exposed and might provide clues on the accident and on the location of the two remaining bodies that have never been found, Gabrielli said last week.
Costa Crociere, which agreed in April to pay a €1 million fine for violations of the Italian administrative responsibility law, has settled claims with more than 80 percent of passengers as of May 14. Parent company Carnival has said that “substantially all” of the ship removal costs and the costs of these and any future claims will be covered by its insurance.
The Concordia accident and its delayed removal have posed a threat to Giglio’s economy. The island, which lies within a sanctuary for marine mammals such as dolphins and whales, depends on tourism in summer months.
Once the Concordia is righted, an unknown amount of liquid and objects that remained on board will flow out and the sea bottom will have to be cleaned and the marine flora replanted. To prevent damage due to the rotation, the salvage team will reinforce a protection perimeter around the ship using floating booms that were first placed in January last year.
–With assistance from Christopher Palmeri in Los Angeles. Editors: Marco Bertacche, Dan Liefgreen, Jerrold Colten