Concordia set to be righted at dawn Monday
Pivotal step in saga to clear fatal crash's wreckage12 September, 18:12
The ship's carcass has since been semi-submerged on its side, making salvage operations difficult for US-based Titan Salvage and the Italian firm Micoperi, with two bodies still missing - passenger Maria Grazia Trecarichi and crewmember Russel Rebelli.
Finding them "is a priority," said Gabrielli. "The search will only begin once the boat is stabilized and safety is guaranteed". With respect to those families, the Civil Protection chief said there would be "no show" or fanfare Monday during the operation. Salvage costs have already reached 600 million euros, exceeding initial estimates by 200 million, even without factoring in the final costs of hauling away the wreckage, scheduled for the spring at the earliest, cruise company Costa Crociere said Thursday. At 60,000 tons, the water-logged ship is the biggest and most expensive salvage operation in history. "All costs are the responsibility of Costa and the insurance companies," said Gabrielli. "Italy's contribution is zero". Crews have effectively welded a new ship onto the wreckage, attaching 30 giant steel pontoons to its sides.
Now they must roll the ship in one piece onto a 1,000-ton underwater platform in a process known as parbuckling. Then they will float it away to be cut up for scrap, a process that could take two years. No one is certain the unprecedented plan will work given the 15-story, 4,000-passenger vessel's massive size - twice that of the Titanic.
"Like all things done for the first time, there are elements of uncertainty," said Gabrielli, underlining the remote risk that the ship may not be able to resist the pressures of tipping it upright. But he stressed that numerous computerized tests of the operation indicate all should go according to plan. Meanwhile, salvage crews are in a fight against time as the ship becomes more and more unstable every day that passes.
Weather conditions Monday may postpone the righting process, officials said. Crews must also be extra careful not to cause added damage to the environment and the ancient archeological sites beneath and around the shipwreck.
For over a year and a half it has been settled inside a nationally protected coral reef and marine park, home to 700 animal and botanical species such as exotic fish, dolphins and huge rare mussels.
The wrecked ship is also resting on top of two ruins from 200 BC, and its impact reportedly already destroyed a third site that dates back to 600 BC.
Prosecutors are surveying the damage which may be tacked on to manslaughter and dereliction-of-duty charges already facing the captain, whose trial began July 9.
He could face up to 20 years in prison.
The mayor of Giglio, Sergio Ortelli, said this summer he was happy with the progress salvage workers were making.
"This is especially necessary," he said. "On the one hand because of how much tourism has suffered, and on the other because citizens have the right to have their island back".