Costa Concordia: Italy prepares to salvage a maritime disaster

The fraught international operation to right the capsized ‘Costa Concordia’ begins tomorrow, and tensions are high

Rome

What happens when you roll a giant cruise liner, the length of three football pitches, into the upright position after it has been left to rust in the sea for 20 months? This is the €600m (£500m) question that engineers are due to answer at daybreak tomorrow, just outside the little port of Giglio.

The partially capsized Costa Concordia, which crashed into rocks off the Tuscan island in January 2012 with the loss of 32 lives, will be dragged erect with cords – or parbuckled – to rest on a specially built underwater platform, before buoyancy devices are attached and it is towed away for scrap at a mainland port in the spring.

If the strategy seems straightforward, the operation is, in reality, fraught with danger.

Franco Porcellacchia, the director of technical operations at Concordia’s owner, Costa Cruises, spelt it out: “It’s an extraordinary operation, not because parbuckling has never been done before, but because it’s never done with such a big ship.”

Costa Cruises has stumped up the €600m bill thus far. But the work has been done by the US company Titan Salvage and Italian marine contractor Micoperi. Both firms agree the plan is “unprecedented”.

Of particular concern is the condition of the starboard side of the 114,500-gross tonnage vessel. The salvagers cannot guarantee that it will withstand the huge stresses when the vessel is pulled upright. Equally worrying are the possible consequences should the vessel disintegrate during the parbuckling process.

Inside, the giant vessel is awash with sewage, detergents and other chemicals. A report by Costa Cruises said that the wreck will contain “organic substances, which might be transformed by microbial degradation into hydrogen sulphide, plus heavy metals and hydrocarbons”. The threat of this toxic brew spilling into an area regarded as a pristine nature reserve with high biodiversity, is the stuff of nightmares for environmentalists and for locals who rely on the tourist trade.

With the countdown to the precarious operation under way, tensions between the authorities overseeing the project have become apparent.

Italy’s Environment minister Andrea Orlando wrote a letter on 30 August to the country’s civil protection agency asking to be informed “in detail” regarding “the plan to deal with environmental emergencies that may occur during the execution of the overall project”.

Franco Gabrielli, the head of the agency, replied tersely that the minister’s request appeared “to ignore all the shared work on the project carried out so far”, a remark seen by many as a call to avoid buck-passing. Mr Gabrielli, who has been, in effect, the state’s supervisor on the project, also added, in so many words, that too many cooks might spoil the broth.

A ring of absorbent material around the wreck is designed to contain the contamination. But even if all goes as planned, it’s inevitable that there will be some spillage in the surrounding water, according to Maria Sargentini, of the monitoring group representing the Tuscany region.

Those concerned about the environmental risks are no doubt aware that Costa’s own technical report on the operation says that it might be now or never for the safe removal of the Concordia: “If the wreck is not righted in 2013 there is a significant risk that it will suffer structural damage during the winter season which could jeopardise the overall strength of the hull [and] make the operation impossible to perform in 2014.” 

Saving the unspoilt shores of Giglio is a top priority. But it’s not the only one. If weather and luck allow, and the ambitious plan succeeds, there will be no triumphalism, Mr Gabrielli stressed. “We still have two dead bodies to recover,” he said.

Two of the 32 killed in the disaster, Maria Grazia Tricarico and Russel Rebello, have yet to be accounted for. It is believed that their bodies may be inside the wreck, or may even have fallen beneath the vessel.

Locals say that recovering their remains would lift a cloud from the island. But this important act will also serve as reminder that first and foremost, the Concordia disaster was a human tragedy.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
ebooks
ebooksAn introduction to the ground rules of British democracy
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: SEO Account Manager

£15000 - £20000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An SEO Account Manager is requi...

SThree: Associate Recruitment Consultant - Global Leader - FTSE 250

£18000 - £23000 per annum + competitive: SThree: As an Associate Recruitment C...

Recruitment Genius: Field Sales Representative

£22000 - £28000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This family run school photogra...

Recruitment Genius: Area Sales Manager - OTE £42,000

£28000 - £42000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: You will be joining a leading s...

Day In a Page

Seifeddine Rezgui: What motivated a shy student to kill 38 holidaymakers in Tunisia?

Making of a killer

What motivated a shy student to kill 38 holidaymakers in Tunisia?
UK Heatwave: Temperatures on the tube are going to exceed the legal limit for transporting cattle

Just when you thought your commute couldn't get any worse...

Heatwave will see temperatures on the Tube exceed legal limit for transporting cattle
Exclusive - The Real Stories of Migrant Britain: Swapping Bucharest for London

The Real Stories of Migrant Britain

Meet the man who swapped Romania for the UK in a bid to provide for his family, only to discover that the home he left behind wasn't quite what it seemed
Cheaper energy on the way, but it's not all sunshine and rainbows

Cheaper energy on the way, but it's not all sunshine and rainbows

Solar power will help bring down electricity prices over the next five years, according to a new report. But it’s cheap imports of ‘dirty power’ that will lower them the most
Katy Perry prevented from buying California convent for $14.5m after nuns sell to local businesswoman instead

No grace of God for Katy Perry as sisters act to stop her buying convent

Archdiocese sues nuns who turned down star’s $14.5m because they don’t approve of her
Ajmer: The ancient Indian metropolis chosen to be a 'smart city' where residents would just be happy to have power and running water

Residents just want water and power in a city chosen to be a ‘smart’ metropolis

The Indian Government has launched an ambitious plan to transform 100 of its crumbling cities
Michael Fassbender in 'Macbeth': The Scottish play on film, from Welles to Cheggers

Something wicked?

Films of Macbeth don’t always end well - just ask Orson Welles... and Keith Chegwin
10 best sun creams for body

10 best sun creams for body

Make sure you’re protected from head to toe in the heatwave
Wimbledon 2015: Nick Bollettieri - Milos Raonic has ability to get to the top but he must learn to handle pressure in big games

Nick Bollettieri's Wimbledon files

Milos Raonic has ability to get to the top but he must learn to handle pressure in big games
Women's World Cup 2015: How England's semi-final success could do wonders for both sexes

There is more than a shiny trophy to be won by England’s World Cup women

The success of the decidedly non-famous females wearing the Three Lions could do wonders for a ‘man’s game’ riddled with cynicism and greed
How to stop an asteroid hitting Earth: Would people co-operate to face down a global peril?

How to stop an asteroid hitting Earth

Would people cooperate to face a global peril?
Just one day to find €1.6bn: Greece edges nearer euro exit

One day to find €1.6bn

Greece is edging inexorably towards an exit from the euro
New 'Iron Man' augmented reality technology could help surgeons and firefighters, say scientists

'Iron Man' augmented reality technology could become reality

Holographic projections would provide extra information on objects in a person's visual field in real time
Sugary drinks 'are killing 184,000 adults around the world every year'

Sugary drinks are killing 184,000 adults around the world every year

The drinks that should be eliminated from people's diets
Pride of Place: Historians map out untold LGBT histories of locations throughout UK

Historians map out untold LGBT histories

Public are being asked to help improve the map