Raising of ‘Concordia’ salvages national pride

Success of project eases shame over infamous grounding of Italian luxury liner

The capsized cruise liner Costa Concordia is seen at the end of the “parbuckling” operation outside Giglio harbour.

The capsized cruise liner Costa Concordia is seen at the end of the “parbuckling” operation outside Giglio harbour.

Wed, Sep 18, 2013, 01:00


There was no mistaking the sense of national pride with which many Italians yesterday greeted the successful conclusion of the spectacular salvage of the huge luxury liner, the Costa Concordia.

Some 19 months after the ship ran aground off the island of Giglio, with the loss of 32 lives, the Concordia is back in an upright position, albeit very damaged and far from seaworthy as she sits on a seabed platform, two thirds under water.

One of the most ambitious salvage operations of modern times came to a triumphant conclusion at 4am yesterday, 19 hours after the “parbuckling project” got under way on Monday morning.

End of nightmare
As the sirens sounded, it was as if the entire island was finally awaking from a nightmare.

At an early morning press conference, the sense of satisfaction was tangible. Franco Gabrielli, head of Italy’s civil protection force, the authority which co-ordinates the salvage, summed it up simply:

“This is the first visible sign of a job well done. We’ve taken a decisive step towards the moment when the ship can be towed away from the island.”

Later in the day, Mr Gabrielli spoke of being “proudly Italian” when he reflected on the job done by the international salvage team, which had relied heavily on Italian engineering and maritime manufacturing skills.

That theme was taken up yesterday afternoon at government house by Italian prime minister Enrico Letta when he met Mr Gabrielli:

“This is a day when a sense of national pride is justified . . . we’ve shown the whole watching world . . . just what Italian technology is capable of doing,” he said.

There is no doubt that the successful salvage in some way represents an act of redemption after the pain and embarrassment of a shipwreck in which the ship’s captain, Francesco Schettino, emerged as a figure of shame, abandoning his ship hours before most of the 4,200 passengers and crew.

Hero of the hour
The rotation of the Concordia might have been a moment of Italian pride but there was nothing Italian about the hero of the hour: Zambian-born salvage master, Nick Sloan.

When he finally stepped onto the harbourside in the Porto del Giglio, he was given a rock star reception, surrounded by television cameras and reporters and warmly applauded by those islanders who had stayed up all night to watch the completion of the “parbuckling” operation.

Capt Sloan then made his way to Bar Fausto where, rather than consuming a regulation cappuccino, he opted for some well earned beer, chased down with the odd whiskey.

Three carabinieri stood guard at the door of the little harbourside bar, fending off the media hordes.

Sitting outside the bar and sipping a beer was Rich Habib, managing director of Titan Salvage, the company which along with Italian partners formed Titan-Micoperi salvage team.

Asked to assess the job just done, Capt Habib was understandably enthusiastic, saying:

“This was a perfect job, it don’t get better than this . . . and sure, this will be part of shipping history because this was one of the most difficult salvage jobs of recent times . . .”

As for the Concordia, the salvage process is far from finished.

Scrapped
Following a search for the missing bodies of two of the victims, she will be temporarily repaired and then towed away to be scrapped, not before next spring.

After that, there will be a long and tedious series of legal battles, not the least that in which Capt Schettino stands accused of multiple manslaughter, causing a shipwreck and abandoning ship.

That is for the future. For the time being, the Concordia has been raised and a difficult job has been well done.