Maria Grazia Caliani, an elegantly dressed older woman whose family owns the pharmacies on the Tuscan island of Giglio, sat on the stone steps at the entrance to the hilltop church St. Peter Apostle, fretting.
Inside, the packed church was in full swing, celebrating the annual festival of Mamiliano, the patron saint of the tiny island. The faithful touched the case which held the forearm bone of the 5th-century saint and sang along with the choir.
But the feast wasn't just about Mamiliano. They also came to pray for the success of the Costa Concordia salvage operation, which was to have begun at dawn on Monday, but will not start until about 8 a.m. local time because of an overnight lightning storm that prevented the positioning of the command barge. The salvage operation's failure, if it happens, would trigger an ecological disaster that could spoil the pristine waters around the island for years, wrecking its only industry – tourism.
"I'm worried," said Ms. Caliani, a Florentine who has lived on the island for decades. "When the ship goes upright, something might go wrong. … The ship was on its first day of its voyage and it had 4,000 people on board. It was full of everything that could spill out."
While vast volumes of oil was removed from the wreck shortly after it capsized on Giglio on night of Jan. 13, 2012, the Costa Concordia, one of the biggest cruise ships in the world, was stuffed to the gunwales with dozens of tonnes of stores, including 8,200 kilos of beef and 2,003 kilos of pineapple.
The food and cooking oils would spew out if the ship breaks apart under the enormous loads exerted on it by the 36 jacks, which are to winch the 290-metre-long ship to vertical over a 10- to 12-hour period and which were tested Sunday at partial pressure, lifting the ship 10 centimetres.
The Costa Concordia lies half submerged on its starboard side on a sloping, granite ledge just off the island and is to be rotated 65 degrees to vertical in an unprecedented operation whose success is not certain.
Alessandro Centurioni, the Giglio environment commissioner, said "the foods inside could still be dangerous" and warned that, even if the ship does not rupture, the smell from the rotting food could be overpowering "as the gases come out."
The salvage team is not putting an official figure on the odds of success though Nick Sloane, the South African salvage master, has told reporters that the figure is 90 per cent. Earlier this year, he was putting the odds at 70 per cent. The figure has been raised because extra precautions have been taken.
One of them was the installation of two enormous steel "blister" tanks, each 23 metres in height, on the ship's bow to provide buoyancy as it rotates onto an undersea platform the length of 1 ½ football fields. "It's a lot more than we were going to go a year ago," he said Sunday afternoon at a press conference on Giglio. "We're mitigating against [the risks]."
The churchgoers who prayed for the success of the €600-million salvage effort also said prayers for the 32 passengers and crew members who died after the ship, under the command of Captain Francesco Schettino, veered too close to a reef off Giglio, tearing a 70-metre-long hole into the hull.
Two of the victims have yet to be recovered and may be found Monday. Mr. Centuroni said the bodies are probably in a lifeboat that got trapped under the Costa Concordia's hull. "There's a good chance the two [bodies] are together," he said.
One of the musicians who played in the Saint Mamiliano festival, Angelo Stefanini, said he had confidence that the salvage would go to plan. "They are professionals," he said.
He added: "The Italian state could never do this, just look at L'Aquila," referring the 2009 earthquake in central Italy that has only been partly cleaned up.
WHAT'S INSIDE THE COSTA CONCORDIA
- 3,746 hamburger buns
- 10 bottles of blessed wine for Masses
- 6,850 litres of ice cream
- 11,007 kilograms of pasta
- 50 litres of liquid insecticide
- 1,046 bottles of extra virgin olive oil
- 16,700 Lipton tea bags
- 17,957 bottles of wine
- 2,200 kilograms of melon
- 14,050 packs of cigarettes