Salvaging the Costa Concordia

Recovering the Costa Concordia, which heeled over and partially sank after striking rocks in January 2012, has been described as one of the largest and most daunting salvage operations ever attempted.

Graphic shows how the Costa Concordia will be recovered in 4 main phases. 1. Underwater platforms built to support the ship. Metal boxes (caissons) attached to the side and filled with water. 2. Cables attached to the platforms and a pulling machine slowly rolls the ship upright, helped by the weight of the caissons. 3. More caissons fixed to the other side of the hull. Water then pumped out. 4. Air inside the caissons gives the ship buoyancy, allowing it to be towed away.

On 16 September 2013, after 612 days partially submerged in 50ft (15 metres) of water, the huge vessel was painstakingly hauled upright in the most critical phase of the salvage operation.

A process called "parbuckling" used pulling cables and the weight of water contained in huge metal boxes welded to the ship's sides to roll it upright.

Time-lapse footage shows the overnight operation to right the ship.

The procedure took 19 hours to complete as pulling jacks applied some 6,000 tonnes of force to dislodge the vessel from the rocky sea bed on the shore of Giglio island.

Once the ship had rotated to 25 degrees, no further pulling was required as it continued to rotate under both its own weight, and the weight of water contained in the metal boxes.

As daylight broke the scale of damage to the ship's submerged flank - ground into a reef and crushed under the weight of the hull - became clear.

The ship is now resting on five huge metal platforms, constructed and lowered to the sea bed earlier this year.

Damaged side of the Costa Concordia The ship's superstructure has been crushed under its own weight
Next phase

The next phase will see more boxes - known as caissons - attached to the other side to stabilise the ship over the winter months.

In spring 2014, water in the caissons will then be pumped out and replaced with air to give buoyancy, allowing the vessel to be finally towed away and scrapped.

The salvage operation is estimated to have cost at least 500 million euros (£420m) so far, with some insurance analysts predicting that this could rise.

The project has faced delays due to bad weather and difficulties in drilling support structures into the hard granite sea bed.

During the early phases of the operation, there were fears that the wreck could slide into deeper water and sink completely, so divers attached heavy steel anchor cables to stabilise it.

Environmental threat

The vessel still contains tonnes of rotting food, furniture, bedding and passengers' belongings, and environmental contamination has been a constant risk during the operation.

One of the project's directors, Franco Porcellacchia, told the BBC: "This is a very delicate and unusual operation. We have no reference here".

"So far we have recorded no pollution and the situation is being constantly monitored by the authorities."

With the ship considered a write-off, its final destination is expected to be a dry dock in Sicily, where it will be cut up.

"The salvage is a joint venture [between Titan and Micoperi], but that contract is terminated when the ship is raised," Mr Porcellacchia said.

KEY EVENTS

Costa Concordia

2012

  • 13 Jan: Costa Concordia runs aground
  • 31 Jan: Search for bodies abandoned
  • 22 March: Five more bodies found in wreck
  • 24 March: Fuel removal work completed
  • 21 April: Salvage contract awarded to firms Titan Salvage and Micoperi
  • 15 Oct: Capt Schettino appears at court inquiry

2013

  • 3 Apr: Largest support platform in position
  • 9 July: Captain Schettino goes on trial
  • 20 July: Five senior crew members convicted of manslaughter
  • 17 Sept: Ship rolled upright in 'parbuckling' operation

"Dismantling it is another ball game".

Chaotic evacuation

Thirty-two passengers and crew members died in the accident, which unfolded just off Giglio island on Italy's west coast on Friday 13 January 2012.

Capt Francesco Schettino is alleged to have steered the ship too close to shore while trying to show it off to islanders, and hit a rock.

The huge vessel then drifted and partially capsized with more than 4,000 people on board.

The evacuation of the ship was slow and chaotic, with conflicting information passed between the captain, the ship's crew and the coastguard authorities.

The bodies of two people - an Italian passenger and a Filipino crew member - remain unaccounted for.

Schettino has been charged with manslaughter, causing a shipwreck and abandoning ship before passengers were evacuated.

The captain went on trial in July and could face up to 20 years in prison if found guilty.

Five other senior crew members were found guilty of manslaughter in July and given sentences of up to two years and 10 months, but may avoid prison due to plea bargains.

Video from Titan Salvage and Micoperi describes the operation as "the largest and most complex recovery ever attempted".

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