‘This time tomorrow, the Costa Concordia will be ready to go’

Final preparations for last voyage of cruise ship which sank two years with loss of 32 lives

A salvage worker (left) washes the front deck of the Costa Concordia cruise ship today  during its refloating operation at Giglio harbour. The  hulk  is nearly ready to be towed away from the Italian island where it struck a rock and capsized two-and-a-half years ago, killing 32 people. Photograph: Reuters

A salvage worker (left) washes the front deck of the Costa Concordia cruise ship today during its refloating operation at Giglio harbour. The hulk is nearly ready to be towed away from the Italian island where it struck a rock and capsized two-and-a-half years ago, killing 32 people. Photograph: Reuters

Tue, Jul 22, 2014, 11:48

“This time tomorrow for sure, we’ll be ready to go...We had a bit of a rough night (bad weather) but we’re still there, the ship is higher in the water and we’re ready”.

That is the view of Nick Sloane, the South African salvage master, who was confident this morning when asked by reporters if the stricken Costa Concordia was ready to make her last voyage tomorrow, leaving the island of Giglio on a 240km last voyage north to Genoa where the ship will be dismantled for scrap.

Even though the day began with a heavy thunderstorm, Mr Sloane did not much seem worried by currently adverse weather conditions.

Whilst further rain is forecast for much of the rest of the week, the salvage team are confident that they will respect tomorrow’s departure date.

They point out that rain is not a problem but rather, obviously enough, their biggest concern relates to windy conditions and a choppy sea, making the delicate towing manoeuvre highly problematic.

In the meantime, whilst the ship awaits the final move-out signal, the salvage team this morning was power-hosing the scum-covered prow which finally emerged from the sea yesterday after two and a half years under water.

It might not seem to make a lot of sense to go cleaning up a wreck that is destined for destruction but this is a shipwreck that generates “photo-ops” by the gallon.

When it finally pulls into Genoa next Sunday - if all goes well - there will be plenty of snappers on hand, ready to take the last pictures of a ship whose name will be forever associated with a tragedy in which 32 people lost their lives when it ran aground here on Giglio, in January 2012.

Whilst that last journey, pulled along by two tugs and accompanied by another 12 vessels, could yet prove problematic, the salvage operation also risks having to confront an environmentalist protest on its trip north.

Fishermen and environmentalists based on the French island of Corsica are reportedly considering some form of protest arguing that, given that the Concordia will pass up to 30 kilometres off the Corsican coast, and is an environmental disaster waiting to happen.

Underlining the point, 18 town mayors from Corsica yesterday issued a statement calling for the removal of the Concordia to be suspended because the operation does not provide “sufficient guarantees for the environment”.

Last week, French Minister for the Environment, Segolène Royal, asked her Italian counterpart, Gian Luca Galletti, for reassurances that all possible precautions had been taken.

Ms Royal may herself be present, on board a French navy vessel, to observe the initial part of the towing operation.

As for the now twice delayed departure, Civil Protection Prefect, Franco Gabrielli, the man with overall responsibility for the operation, yesterday repeated that the delay had not been prompted by any serious “problems”.

Mr Gabrielli is likely to have to close down the port and its traffic for the best part of a day whilst the Concordia is manoeuvred out of port.