The Costa Concordia is vertical 20 months after it smashed into reef off the tiny Tuscan island of Giglio, killing 32 passengers and casting shame on an entire nation but making a hero of its salvage master.
The salvage team, led by South Africa’s Nick Sloane, announced that at 4 a.m. local time, Tuesday, that “The parbuckling operation has been successfully completed. The wreck is now upright and resting safely on the specially build artificial seabed at a depth of approximately 30 metres.”
“Parbuckling” refers to the 65-degree rotation of the ship, a highly complex, delicate and expensive operation that began at about 9 a.m. Monday and went hours late.
The operation’s success triggered an outpouring of congratulations from the public to the salvage team members and from members to themselves. About 500 salvage workers were employed on Giglio, using equipment from 150 Italian and international companies, including at least one Canadian technology firm that provided subsea sensors.
“The Costa is in an upright position,” said Michael Thamm, the chief executive officer of the Costa Group, the cruise company that owns the Costa Concordia. “Great achievements can be made in this country if we work together.”
Giglio residents were delighted that the ship went vertical without breaking up and spilling its potentially toxic contents, including dozens of tonnes of rotted meat, fish and cooking oils.
“We are all very happy,” Margherita Cavero, a local shopkeeper, said Tuesday morning. “They have all worked hard and risked their lives to liberate us from this stupidity. They deserve it.”
The salvage has been the most expensive in history and the costs are climbing every day, because many months of work have to be done to stabilize the 290-metre-long ship, refloat it and tow it to a shipyard to be broken apart. “We are somewhere in the region of €600-million [$800-million U.S.] , but it’s getting more,” Mr. Thamm said. “We are partially insured but the insurance will not cover the full amount…We will pay what is required to be paid.”
Some estimates from re-insurers, such as Munich Re of Germany, estimate the final bill at $1-billion (U.S.) or more.
The ship, in plain view from the harbour of Giglio, about 16 kilometres west of the Italian mainland, has extensive damage on its starboard side. Near the bow, the ship is crushed from top to bottom. A smaller, though still enormous, indentation has damaged a section near the stern of the 290-metre long ship.
The damage is the result of the Costa Concordia’s resting position on a sloping granite reef with two ridges that slowly collapsed those two sections of the hull. The salvage team, aware of the “deformations”, feared the wreck would not survive another winter in sea. If it were to slide off the reef, its organic contents, such as thousands of tonnes of rotten food, would have triggered an ecological disaster.
The ship is two-thirds submerged in its vertical position. It must be stabilized, after which a series of giant flotation tanks are to installed on its starboard side. If all goes to plan, the Costa Concordia will be towed to a scrapyard in the spring, though the destination is still unknown because most shipyards in the region are not big enough to handle a vessel of such enormous dimensions. The Cost Concordia, built in 2005, weighs 114,000 tonnes, or four times the size of the Italian navy's biggest aircraft carrier, the Cavour.
The successful salvage has turned Mr. Sloane into a national hero and restored some of the lost pride of Italy, which went into a collective funk after the Jan. 13, 2012 Costa Concordia tragedy. Its captain, Francesco Schettino, left the ship ahead of some of its crew and passengers and was widely condemned as a coward. He is under trial for manslaughter and abandoning the ship.
The front-page headline of a local newspaper, Il Tirreno, called the successful salvage of the wreck “The redemption of a country on its knees” (Globe and Mail translation).
The 4 a.m. announcement of the completion of the salvage came after almost 20 hours of slow, grinding progress that was marred by at least one technical glitch with the rotation cables but otherwise went to plan. Before the rotation, Mr. Sloane gave the mission a 90-per-cent chance of success, leaving many islanders less than comfortable.
By early Tuesday morning, the bodies of the two missing passengers who were thought to have been trapped in a lifeboat under the starboard side of the hull had not been found. Underwater robots that have been circling the hull may locate the remains later Tuesday, though it is possible they may be inside the ship. The salvage officials said some of the previously submerged cabins and corridors of the ship could now be explored.
The Costa Concordia is resting on a vast artificial seabed of grout bags and steel platforms. The steel bed alone is the length of 1-½ football fields. In total almost 30,000 tonnes of steel was used to build all the components being used to rotate and refloat the ship, making it one of Italy’s biggest engineering projects.