The Costa Concordia was dislodged from the subsea reef that impaled it 20 months ago, allowing the residents of the small Tuscan island of Giglio to finally contemplate lives without the grim daily reminder of the tragedy that killed 32 passengers and turned their lives upside down.
By early Tuesday morning, the 290-metre-long cruise liner was well on its way to being set vertical in an unprecedented salvage effort that consumed almost 30,000 tons of steel – four times the weight of the Eiffel Tower. It has cost about $825-million and dominated the lives of 500 salvage workers for well more than a year.
While a technical glitch and slower than forecast tilting speed meant that the delicate operation would continue until at least 4 a.m. Tuesday, the salvage officials were confident they were en route to success. “We don’t see anything to worry about,” Sergio Girotto, the project manager for Microperi, the Italian nautical engineering firm, said Monday afternoon.
Many of the 1,000 or so residents of Giglio came out to watch the ship’s rotation, known as parbuckling, a 19th-century term that means sling. The “sling” in this case was composed of 56 thick chains, each weighing 26 tons, attached to powerful jacks that every so slowly moved the 114,000-ton ship upright.
Some of the residents, and a few “disaster” tourists, carried cameras and binoculars. Many of them climbed the steep hills behind the wreck to get a panoramic view of the salvage effort and the flotilla of small ships, ranging from an Italian navy patrol vessel to work barges, that surrounded the Costa Concordia like pilot fish.
Leo Bartoli, 74, a retired stonemason, and his wife, Maria Cavero, watched the salvage from the cliff smack in front of their house. Every time he ventures outdoors and peers over the edge, Mr. Bartoli gets angry at Francesco Schettino, the man captaining the liner at the time of the disaster. “I think the captain should be in prison,” he said. “I think this every day.”
He and his wife are still haunted by the night of Jan. 13, 2012, when the Costa Concordia veered too close to shore, struck an underwater reef, turned 180 degrees and went crashing into another reef just off the Giglio coast, only a few hundred metres from the island’s main harbour. Mr. Schettino abandoned the ship ahead of some of the 4,200 passengers and crew and is on trial for involuntary manslaughter.
“Through my binoculars, I saw the passengers with their lifejackets on the boat and in the water, screaming,” Ms. Cavero said. “Later, a German passenger still wearing his lifejacket walked up the road next to us. He kept saying ‘Hotel, hotel, hotel.’ His wife and children were in the port and he was looking for a hotel for them.”
Like her husband, she thinks Mr. Schettino is an embarrassment to Italy. “The captain should always be the last off the ship,” she said. “The blame should go to him.”
Many, perhaps most, of the islanders can’t wait for the Costa Concordia to disappear. After it’s salvage, flotation tanks are to be fitted to its starboard side – the port-side tanks are already in place – and it is to be towed to a scrap yard somewhere in Italy, one that is capable of handling its vast size. The Costa Concordia’s last voyage is to be made in a few months.
The islanders want it gone, not just because its presence reminds them of the tragedy – two bodies of missing passengers thought to be trapped under the hull had yet to be recovered by Monday night – but because the disaster wrecked the slow pace of life on the island. Out went the regulator tourists. In came the day tripper disaster tourists and the hundreds of workers, ranging from welders to scuba divers. “It’s a casino here,” said Maurizio Pini, the beefy barista who works a cafe in the hilltop town of Castello. “Our lives used to be tranquil.”
To be sure, not all the islanders are happy about the upcoming disappearance of the ship. Sergio Roncolini, the tattooed owner of L’Archetto restaurant overlooking Giglio’s harbour, said business has been good since the ship crashed – his is one of the few restaurants that stays open year-round.
As night fell on Monday, the Costa Concordia was bathed in floodlights as salvage master Nick Sloane of South Africa and his team of technicians guided the monster vessel to the upright position in an agonizingly slow process. As it came close to vertical, it looked, from a distance, like the party cruise liner it was in the moments before it smashed into Giglio’s reefs.