Costa Concordia out at sea with her ‘armada’ of support boats

Cruise ship sets off on last voyage from Giglio to Genoa two years after it shipwrecked

Horns blast and huge spouts of water shoot into the air in celebration as the Costa Concordia is rotated at the beginning of the ship's last voyage as it heads for the scrapyard. Video: Reuters

Wed, Jul 23, 2014, 20:08

From a distance, she looks like a huge patched-up travel trunk that someone has dumped in the sea.

Up close, it is difficult to be sure that she is actually moving. Yet, the reality is that one of the most ambitious maritime salvage operations of all time appears to be moving inexorably to a safe conclusion as the stricken luxury liner, the Costa Concordia, makes her way north to Genoa and dismantlement.

At ten o’clock this morning as the last cables were released, the fog horns sounded and one of the tugs threw up an impressive arc of spray as the Concordia finally left the island of Giglio, destination Genoa.

Trust up like an oven-ready turkey, with a set of giant biscuit boxes welded onto both her sides to hold her together, the Concordia and her armada of support boats will take five days to travel to Genoa, sailing along at the ultra-slow pace of 2.5 knots per hour and due to pull into the port of Genoa sometime on Sunday afternoon.

Out at sea, the “armada” is working out exactly as it has been described all week long to the media, a point that the salvage team underlined by taking some of us out to sea to watch the ship close up in the water.

In other words, the Concordia is being towed sedately along by two powerful tugs, just 700-800 metres in front of the liner, while the support boats keep their distance, behind the liner and off to either side.

These boats are there to pick up any debris or liquids that may be released by the Concordia on the trip.

On top of that, the armada is being closely observed by a coast guard ATR 42 plane, which will use sophisticated heat related equipment to monitor changes in the sea’s temperature, caused by any unwelcome pollutant.

Furthermore, another boat in the fleet will monitor the voyage route with a view to marine wildlife, in particular shoals of dolphins, advising salvage master Nick Sloane accordingly.

Remarkably, the removal of the Concordia has thus far gone much more smoothly than anyone might have dared to hope.

Mr Sloane had suggested yesterday it might be mid-afternoon before the ship had moved off from the island.

Yet, within a quarter of an hour of the suspension of harbour traffic at 8.30 yesterday morning, the ship had already moved from the shoreline and was clearly on its way.

Inevitably, the departure was greeted with huge enthusiasm on the portside. In the Bar Monti, they were playing “We Are The Champions” while out on the harbour front reporters who attempted to interview the salvage team workers found themselve drenched in celebratory champagne.