Delicate Concordia refloating operation due to begin tomorrow

US-owned cruise liner ran aground off Giglio with loss of 32 lives

An aerial view shows the Costa Concordia  on its side next to Giglio Island. File Photograph: Alessandro Bianchi/Reuters

An aerial view shows the Costa Concordia on its side next to Giglio Island. File Photograph: Alessandro Bianchi/Reuters

Sun, Jul 13, 2014, 10:30

The Costa Concordia has caused a lot of grief in its time but this weekend on the island of Giglio, there is concern that it might cause further serious problems, this time of an environmental nature.

Two and half years after it ran aground off the Tuscan island of Giglio with the loss of 32 lives, the US-owned Concordia is finally about to set sail again, even if not under its own steam.

At about 6.00am tomorrow, weather permitting in this strangely unsettled Italian summer, the Concordia salvage team will begin an attempt to bring the ship fully to the surface so that it can be towed off to the port of Genoa to be dismantled.

On the crowded ferry boats out to the island from the mainland port of Porto Santo Stefano this morning, weather conditions seemed perfect. However, if the strong winds which began to blow yesterday afternoon were to start up again, then the operation might have to be delayed.

As of today, the ship is in exactly the same position in which we left it last September after it had been “parbuckled” - righted in layman’s terms - by the Italo-American Titan/Micoperi Salvage team led by South African salvage master Nick Sloan. It now lies two thirds submerged just off the coast of the island, resting on a purpose built platform.

The complex refloat will be effected thanks to the use of 18 “caissons” or large metal boxes attached to the body of the wreck. During the parbuckling operation, these caissons were filled with water in order to act as ballast to help right the ship. Now, they will be drained of the water and compressed air will be pumped into the boxes, in order to lift the ship more than 12 metres off its current platform.

Given that this is unchartered territory, no one can be certain as to just how the damaged wreck will react to being moved. Experts believe raising it for the first two metres could be the most dangerous moment, because that could be when the ship, which has been lying in the shallow sea water just off the island coast for the last 30 months, might disintegrate.

This is probably a long shot, given that Nick Sloan and his team are confident that they have got all their preparations right, just as they did when it came to the parbuckling operation last September. However, environmentalists are on standby since if the ship did break up, it would spill out a toxic mix of chemicals, rotten food and ship’s debris.

Once raised, the salvage team’s first task will be to check out the wreck to further assess the damage caused by the sinking in January 2012. Whilst the team have already fully checked out the ship, there may still be unexpected surprises below the water line.

If the refloat goes to plan, then the ship will be moved 30 metres eastward in preparation for a 240km tow into the port of Genoa where it will be dismantled. It may take up to four or five days before the delicate towing operation can begin.

It is not for nothing that the refloat begins tomorrow, on July 14th. Superstition argued against attempting the operation on the 13th. Remember, the date of the night that the Costa Concordia ran aground was Friday 13th, January 2012. Who says 13 is not unlucky?

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