ROME: The refloating of Italy’s ill-fated Costa Concordia cruise ship is set to begin on Monday, with a high-risk salvage operation to raise the rusting hulk ahead of its final journey to the shipyard where it was built.
Two-and-a-half years after it sank off the island of Giglio in a nighttime disaster that left 32 people dead, the plan is to raise and tow away the 114,500-tonne vessel in an unprecedented and delicate operation.
“The most critical phase will be the first day, raising the wreck for the first time. Refloating a passenger ship this large has never been attempted before,” South African Nick Sloane, who is in charge of the salvage, said.
The 290-metre (950-foot) ship was rotated upright in September and is now sitting on an underwater platform. Thirty tanks or “sponsons” that have been welded to the sides will work as a pneumatic system to raise it.
Under the gaze of the world’s media, the operation is expected to start on Monday with workers pumping compressed air into the sponsons to lift the Concordia by two metres. The environmental committee overseeing the operation gave a preliminary go-ahead yesterday but said that final confirmation would come today, depending on the weather. The operation is to begin at 6am (0400 GMT) tomorrow.
In a worst-case scenario, some environmentalists warn the hull could break apart and spill its rotting innards into what is one of Europe’s largest marine sanctuaries.
“We’re talking about a floating city kitted out for thousands of passengers, with gallons of pollutants such as oils, detergents and sewage chemicals still inside,” said Giorgia Monti from Greenpeace, which is sending an observation team to monitor the operation.
After the initial lift, tug boats would drag the wreck 30 metres east and secure it in place before it is slowly buoyed another 10 metres, with engineers checking each deck for fresh structural damage as they emerge.
All maritime traffic in the area — which includes a popular beach resort — will be blocked during the most delicate phases. A team of experts will manage the operation from a control room under the guidance of Sloane, who has described the salvage as his “most challenging” yet in a career that has taken him to six continents and two warzones.
Ship owner Costa Crociere said said that the whole procedure is expected to take six or seven days.