‘Costa Concordia’ refloat operation gets under way

Ship to be towed from island of Giglio to Genoa, where it will be taken apart

The wreck of the Costa Concordia cruise ship is prepared to be towed away near the port of Giglio in Italy yesterday. Photograph: EPA/Claudio Giovannini

The wreck of the Costa Concordia cruise ship is prepared to be towed away near the port of Giglio in Italy yesterday. Photograph: EPA/Claudio Giovannini

Tue, Jul 15, 2014, 01:00

So far, so good on the island of Giglio. Although the operation to refloat the sunken cruise liner, the Costa Concordia, is far from complete and although the wreck still has to be towed 240km up the coast to Genoa, there was no mistaking the sense of relief and satisfaction expressed by the rescue team at the end of yesterday’s potentially dangerous day of salvage.

Italian environment minister Gian Carlo Galletti perhaps spoke for many when he told reporters:

“There is no reason for celebrations here . . . Every time I talk about the Costa Concordia, I repeat this, namely that we are talking about a tragedy in which 32 people lost their lives . . . All we can say is that we [the Italian government] have tried to do everything with the utmost transparency and I am very proud of the professionalism of our salvage team and our experts . . .”

Symbolic moment

The minister, who has been on Giglio since this latest phase in the salvage operation began on Sunday, also said he would return for the symbolic moment next week when the ship will finally leave the island. The minister reminded reporters that, while it would have been much cheaper to dismantle the ship on Giglio, the government had consistently chosen to tow it away so as to avoid any further potentially negative impact on the island.

Barring problems, the refloat will continue through the week until such time as the ship has been raised 12 metres.

By the end of yesterday, the ship had been raised by about two metres, something that could clearly be seen from the shoreline thanks to the line of rust-encrusted ship’s hull that emerged from the water.

This refloat had been effected both by the use of the buoyancy “caissons” or metal boxes on the ship’s sides, boxes drained of water and then filled with compressed air, and also by the variety of power driven cables that currently anchor the ship.

One could hardly claim that the ship was “up and running” but for the salvage team, the important thing was that it was able to “float” by itself, since yesterday was the first time since last September’s parbuckling operation that it had been raised off the purpose-built steel platform on which it has rested.

Furthermore, the plan to move the ship 30 metres eastward, away from the island in order to be ready for towing, was also progressing without problems.

Salvage team

Franco Gabrielle, head of Italy’s Civil Protection Authority and the man in overall charge of the complex salvage, promised reporters that he hoped to provide them with a thoroughly boring week, in which nothing untoward continued to happen on a daily basis.

Mr Gabrielle also confirmed that at various moments in the refloat and removal, the salvage team would continue to look for the one body still missing from the January 13th, 2012 shipwreck. The rescue team feel they know the whereabouts of the body, far below deck in a position that would probably only be revealed in Genoa, when the boat is taken apart.

The Concordia’s next hurdle would appear to be the trip to Genoa during which it would travel at the slow rate of two knots per hour, accompanied on the five-day journey by an armada of tugs and support boats, containing environmentalists, salvage experts and firemen. Obviously, too, the one thing that nobody wants is for the wreck to encounter bad weather on its 240km trek north. For the time being, though, so far so good.