Costa Concordia salvage: Success boosts pride for shamed Italy

 

The extraordinary righting of the Costa Concordia from its watery Tuscan graveyard has given Italy a boost of sorely needed pride, helping erase the shame many felt after an Italian captain took the cruise ship off course in an apparent stunt, crashed it and then abandoned ship before everyone was evacuated.

It didn't seem to matter that the chief salvage master was from South Africa or that his 500-member crew hailed from 26 different nations. Italy, beset by two years of recession and such political instability that each day brings relief that the government hasn't fallen, had pulled off an unprecedented engineering feat as the world watched live on television. 

"Well done!" retiree Aldo Mattera said Tuesday morning as he surveyed the Concordia, upright for the first time since the Jan. 13, 2012, shipwreck that killed 32 people near Giglio Island. 

Premier Enrico Letta also weighed in, emphasizing the importance of restoring the nation's civic pride. 

As he personally thanked Franco Gabrielli, the head of Italy's civil protection agency who oversaw the project, Letta said the operation had demonstrated what it means to take responsibility for something, no matter how risky or how high the stakes. 

"In this case, the public image of our country was one of fleeing responsibility," Letta said, referring to the captain's early evacuation from the ship and his subsequent refusal to reboard even after being ordered to do so by the coast guard. 

"Instead today, thanks to all your work and thanks to this concept of assuming responsibility" Italy's reputation has been restored, Letta told Gabrielli at a ceremony at the government palace in Rome. 

A few hours earlier, a fog horn had mourned off Giglio at 4 a.m. and Gabrielli declared that the Concordia had been successfully righted and had settled onto its new perch on a false seabed. 

The development now allows for a renewed search for the two bodies that were never recovered and for the ship to eventually be towed away and broken up for scrap. It will also enable recovery crews to go from cabin to cabin opening safes so they can to return the valuables that passengers left behind in their frantic nighttime escape. 

Nick Sloane, the South African chief salvage master, received a hero's welcome when he came ashore from the floating barge that served as the operation's command center. At one point, a phalanx of Carabineri police served as bodyguards to keep television crews from mobbing him. 

"She was heavier than I expected," Sloane told reporters after a few hours of sleep. "But you have to be patient. You can't do it with a stopwatch." 

Many disasters have their heroes, but some also have their villains. Schettino has insisted he has been made a scapegoat, and that a series of errors by others and his employer itself contributed to the disaster. 

He has said that he saved lives by maneuvering the stricken ship toward Giglio's port rather than letting it sink in the open sea, and that the reef he rammed into wasn't on his nautical charts. 

Schettino's trial resumes Monday on the mainland, where he is accused of manslaughter, causing a shipwreck and abandoning the ship before all its 4,200 passengers and crew had been evacuated. Five other Costa employees were convicted of manslaughter in a plea bargain and were sentenced to less than three years apiece — sentences that enraged some survivors as being far too lenient. 

Sloane, who choked up at times during a Tuesday afternoon briefing, was asked what he would say to Schettino if he ever had a chance to meet him. 

"I wouldn't like to be in his shoes," Sloane replied. "For a captain, it's the worst thing to happen to you. It's something he has to deal with. But I'm sorry for everyone who was there." 

Sloane said the most critical moment of the operation that began early Monday came at the beginning, when the Concordia failed to dislodge itself from the reef embedded in its starboard side even after some 6,000 tons of force was applied. 

"That would tend to the higher side of assumptions," he said. "At 6,200 tons she moved, then at 6,800 she got off the rock. That was the crucial moment." 

The Concordia's submerged side suffered significant damage during the 20 months it bore the weight of the 115,000-ton, 300-meter-long (1,000-foot-long) ship on the reef. The daylong operation to right it had stressed that flank as well. Exterior balconies were mangled and entire sections looked warped, although officials said the damage probably looked worse than it really was. 

The damage must be repaired to stabilize the ship so it can withstand the coming winter, when seas and winds will whip the luxury liner. The starboard side must also be stabilized so crews can affix tanks that will help float the ship off the seabed when it comes time to tow it sometime next year. 

The operation had been expected to take no more than 12 hours but expanded to 19 after an initial weather delay and emergency maintenance issues involving the vast system of steel cables, pulleys and counterweights that were used to roll the half-submerged carcass of steel upright. 

Sloane said there were no errors, just tense moments — "alarms started to ring" — when the ship didn't immediately settle onto its artificial seabed platform. Once it did, the control room issued to all the vessels involved the happy announcement that the operation was successful. 

For the Gigliese, as the islanders call themselves, Tuesday's righting was an emotional high point in a journey that began that cold January night, when they rushed to the port with blankets, warm clothes and offers of housing as thousands of frightened, shivering passengers struggled ashore. 

"I don't have the words to describe how I feel today, because, that night I was among the first to arrive after the shipwreck," said Franca Anichini, who woke up shortly after dawn Tuesday to see the ship upright. "I feel a shiver. What was impossible that night became possible."

AP

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
News
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
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: Digital Web Designer

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: A Digital Web Designer is required to join a f...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Executive / Business Development Manager

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: This is a fantastic opportunity to develop an ...

Recruitment Genius: Web Developer - Junior / Middleweight

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: One of the South East's fastest growing full s...

Guru Careers: Marketing Manager / Marketing Communications Manager

£35-40k (DOE) + Benefits: Guru Careers: We are seeking a Marketing Communicati...

Day In a Page

Fifa corruption: The 161-page dossier that exposes the organisation's dark heart

The 161-page dossier that exposes Fifa's dark heart

How did a group of corrupt officials turn football’s governing body into what was, in essence, a criminal enterprise? Chris Green and David Connett reveal all
Mediterranean migrant crisis: 'If Europe thinks bombing boats will stop smuggling, it will not. We will defend ourselves,' says Tripoli PM

Exclusive interview with Tripoli PM Khalifa al-Ghweil

'If Europe thinks bombing boats will stop smuggling, it will not. We will defend ourselves'
Raymond Chandler's Los Angeles: How the author foretold the Californian water crisis

Raymond Chandler's Los Angeles

How the author foretold the Californian water crisis
Chinese artist who posted funny image of President Xi Jinping facing five years in prison as authorities crackdown on dissent in the arts

Art attack

Chinese artist who posted funny image of President Xi Jinping facing five years in prison
Marc Jacobs is putting Cher in the limelight as the face of his latest campaign

Cher is the new face of Marc Jacobs

Alexander Fury explains why designers are turning to august stars to front their lines
Parents of six-year-old who beat leukaemia plan to climb Ben Nevis for cancer charity

'I'm climbing Ben Nevis for my daughter'

Karen Attwood's young daughter Yasmin beat cancer. Now her family is about to take on a new challenge - scaling Ben Nevis to help other children
10 best wedding gift ideas

It's that time of year again... 10 best wedding gift ideas

Forget that fancy toaster, we've gone off-list to find memorable gifts that will last a lifetime
Paul Scholes column: With the Premier League over for another year, here are my end of season awards

Paul Scholes column

With the Premier League over for another year, here are my end of season awards
Heysel disaster 30th anniversary: Liverpool have seen too much tragedy to forget fateful day in Belgium

Liverpool have seen too much tragedy to forget Heysel

Thirty years ago, 39 fans waiting to watch a European Cup final died as a result of a fatal cocktail of circumstances. Ian Herbert looks at how a club dealt with this tragedy
Amir Khan vs Chris Algieri: Khan’s audition for Floyd Mayweather may turn into a no-win situation, says Frank Warren

Khan’s audition for Mayweather may turn into a no-win situation

The Bolton fighter could be damned if he dazzles and damned if he doesn’t against Algieri, the man last seen being decked six times by Pacquiao, says Frank Warren
Blundering Tony Blair quits as Middle East peace envoy – only Israel will miss him

Blundering Blair quits as Middle East peace envoy – only Israel will miss him

For Arabs – and for Britons who lost their loved ones in his shambolic war in Iraq – his appointment was an insult, says Robert Fisk
Fifa corruption arrests: All hail the Feds for riding to football's rescue

Fifa corruption arrests

All hail the Feds for riding to football's rescue, says Ian Herbert
Isis in Syria: The Kurdish enclave still resisting the tyranny of President Assad and militant fighters

The Kurdish enclave still resisting the tyranny of Assad and Isis

In Syrian Kurdish cantons along the Turkish border, the progressive aims of the 2011 uprising are being enacted despite the war. Patrick Cockburn returns to Amuda
How I survived Cambodia's Killing Fields: Acclaimed surgeon SreyRam Kuy celebrates her mother's determination to escape the US

How I survived Cambodia's Killing Fields

Acclaimed surgeon SreyRam Kuy celebrates her mother's determination to escape to the US
Stephen Mangan interview: From posh buffoon to pregnant dad, the actor has quite a range

How Stephen Mangan got his range

Posh buffoon, hapless writer, pregnant dad - Mangan is certainly a versatile actor