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
PROMOTED VIDEO
ebooks
ebooksA year of political gossip, levity and intrigue from the sharpest pen in Westminster
Life and Style
Suited and booted in the Lanvin show at the Paris menswear collections
fashionParis Fashion Week
Arts and Entertainment
Kara Tointon and Jeremy Piven star in Mr Selfridge
tvActress Kara Tointon on what to expect from Series 3
Voices
Winston Churchill, then prime minister, outside No 10 in June 1943
voicesA C Benson called him 'a horrid little fellow', George Orwell would have shot him, but what a giant he seems now, says DJ Taylor
News
i100
News
An asteroid is set to pass so close to Earth it will be visible with binoculars
news
Arts and Entertainment
Benedict Cumberbatch has spoken about the lack of opportunities for black British actors in the UK
film
News
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

Austen Lloyd: Private Client Solicitor - Oxford

Excellent Salary : Austen Lloyd: OXFORD - REGIONAL FIRM - An excellent opportu...

Austen Lloyd: Clinical Negligence Associate / Partner - Bristol

Super Package: Austen Lloyd: BRISTOL - SENIOR CLINICAL NEGLIGENCE - An outstan...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Consultant - Solar Energy - OTE £50,000

£15000 - £50000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Fantastic opportunities are ava...

Recruitment Genius: Compute Engineer

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: A Compute Engineer is required to join a globa...

Day In a Page

Syria crisis: Celebrities call on David Cameron to take more refugees as one young mother tells of torture by Assad regime

Celebrities call on David Cameron to take more Syrian refugees

One young mother tells of torture by Assad regime
The enemy within: People who hear voices in their heads are being encouraged to talk back – with promising results

The enemy within

People who hear voices in their heads are being encouraged to talk back
'In Auschwitz you got used to anything'

'In Auschwitz you got used to anything'

Survivors of the Nazi concentration camp remember its horror, 70 years on
Autumn/winter menswear 2015: The uniforms that make up modern life come to the fore

Autumn/winter menswear 2015

The uniforms that make up modern life come to the fore
'I'm gay, and plan to fight military homophobia'

'I'm gay, and plan to fight military homophobia'

Army general planning to come out
Iraq invasion 2003: The bloody warnings six wise men gave to Tony Blair as he prepared to launch poorly planned campaign

What the six wise men told Tony Blair

Months before the invasion of Iraq in 2003, experts sought to warn the PM about his plans. Here, four of them recall that day
25 years of The Independent on Sunday: The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century

25 years of The Independent on Sunday

The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century
Homeless Veterans appeal: 'Really caring is a dangerous emotion in this kind of work'

Homeless Veterans appeal

As head of The Soldiers' Charity, Martin Rutledge has to temper compassion with realism. He tells Chris Green how his Army career prepared him
Wu-Tang Clan and The Sexual Objects offer fans a chance to own the only copies of their latest albums

Smash hit go under the hammer

It's nice to pick up a new record once in a while, but the purchasers of two latest releases can go a step further - by buying the only copy
Geeks who rocked the world: Documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry

The geeks who rocked the world

A new documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry
Belle & Sebastian interview: Stuart Murdoch reveals how the band is taking a new direction

Belle & Sebastian is taking a new direction

Twenty years ago, Belle & Sebastian was a fey indie band from Glasgow. It still is – except today, as prime mover Stuart Murdoch admits, it has a global cult following, from Hollywood to South Korea
America: Land of the free, home of the political dynasty

America: Land of the free, home of the political dynasty

These days in the US things are pretty much stuck where they are, both in politics and society at large, says Rupert Cornwell
A graphic history of US civil rights – in comic book form

A graphic history of US civil rights – in comic book form

A veteran of the Fifties campaigns is inspiring a new generation of activists
Winston Churchill: the enigma of a British hero

Winston Churchill: the enigma of a British hero

A C Benson called him 'a horrid little fellow', George Orwell would have shot him, but what a giant he seems now, says DJ Taylor
Growing mussels: Precious freshwater shellfish are thriving in a unique green project

Growing mussels

Precious freshwater shellfish are thriving in a unique green project