Italy Outlines Biggest Ship Salvage in History
The wreck of the Costa Concordia cruise ship will be removed from an Italian island by February next year after the biggest salvage operation in history, according to a plan outlined in Rome on Friday.
"The magnitude of this is unprecedented. We feel confident we can do it," said Richard Habib, managing director of U.S. salvage company Titan, which won a joint bid for the project with Italian offshore rig company Micoperi.
"This is the largest ship removal by weight in history," he said.
The wreck is lying on its side on a reef off the Tuscan island of Giglio, where it went aground with the loss of 32 lives on the night of January 13. More than 4,000 passengers and crew were taken off the ship in lifeboats or swam ashore.
Silvio Bartolotti, general manager of Micoperi, said at a joint news conference: "The only way that we could think of doing it was to right the ship the same way that it keeled over, just like a film on rewind."
The salvage work is set to begin "in a few days' time," ship owner Costa Crociere said in a statement. Finance director Beniamino Maltese estimated that the cost at more than $300 million (236 million euros).
The Costa Concordia weighs 44,612 tons -- about the same weight as the Titanic -- and is 290 meters long, nearly the size of three football fields.
Apart from being a huge technical challenge, the salvage is also highly sensitive for islanders fearful of losing vital tourism revenue as well as for environmentalists afraid of damage to what is a unique marine sanctuary.
The salvage companies said the first task would be to secure the wreck, by August at the latest, to prevent it from slipping off the reef and into deeper water during the operation.
Sixty poles will be driven into the sea floor to attach the wreck from the land side and to fix a series of underwater platforms each measuring 40 meters (131 feet) by 40 meters on the open sea side.
Bartolotti said marine life on the seabed would be removed before the work and then put back after completion, while all drilling waste would be pumped to the surface and disposed of safely to avoid pollution.
Workers will then weld large metal tanks that can be filled with water onto the sides of the ship and drag the giant wreckage into an upright position using two cranes as well as cables attached to the platforms.
The plan is to then refloat the ship by emptying the tanks and pumping out the hull, then towing it to port for it to be broken up.
Asked about potential risks, Habib said: "The plan was designed so we can allow a lot more damage to the ship than we would normally allow."
A confidential report by Costa Crociere leaked to the press said the wreck was at risk of sinking within a year as wave action and the ship's weight is distorting the hull.
Habib said the operation would be at its most vulnerable when the wreck has been dragged into an upright position and before it is re-floated.
"Once we right it, we need to re-float it relatively quickly," he said.
Enrico Rossi, governor of the Tuscany region, stressed the need to move as quickly as possible. "We need to return to normality.
"We don't want to be seen around the world as the Tuscan archipelago that is suffering from a wound," he said.