Planned reflotation of 'Costa Concordia' is largest ever salvage operation

Sat, May 19, 2012, 01:00

AN ITALIAN-AMERICAN consortium yesterday expressed quiet optimism it would be able to refloat the stricken cruise liner Costa Concordia – the luxury ship that ran aground off the Tuscan island of Giglio last January with the loss of 32 lives.

The 114,500-tonne, 292m vessel is still lying on her side, stuck on a 30m-deep ledge right on the coast of Giglio.

Speaking at a Rome news conference yesterday, both Italian state representatives and members of the salvage consortium argued that although this was the largest operation of its kind ever to have been attempted, it should still prove possible to right the Concordia, refloat it and then tow it away for destruction.

Two salvage companies, US-based Titan Salvage and Italy-based Micoperi, will join forces for an operation expected to take at least 12 months and to cost at least $300 million (€236 million).

With the Costa Concordia emergency commissioner, Franco Gabriele, in attendance, representatives of both companies outlined their plans and showed a film whose computer graphics made what would be a complex operation look deceptively simple.

In layman’s language, the basic idea is for the ship to be righted with a series of poles and pressure platforms drilled into the seabed and the shoreline. Pressure tanks would be fitted to the side of the vessel sitting above the waterline.

Once righted, the ship is to stand on a purpose-built seabed platform to avoid the risk that it might slide off the coastal shelf into much deeper water, where it could not be salvaged from.

Explaining the nature of the salvage operation, Capt Rich Habib of Titan said: “This is a very large project – it is unprecedented in its size – but we will be using tried and proven techniques from both the off-shore and the salvage industries, and you’ve got to remember that we have more than a hundred years of salvage industry experience. So, the things we’re going to do are tried and true techniques that we understand pretty well.”

Capt Habib acknowledged that perhaps the most delicate moment in the whole operation would be when the ship is first righted, which is expected to be achieved at the end of this year.

Bad weather at that point could complicate matters and even break up the ship, depending on its overall state.

So far the bodies of 30 of the 32 victims have been found.

Mr Gabriele expressed the hope that the other two bodies will be found during the salvage operation.