Italy fetes righting of disaster ship Concordia
'Few countries could have pulled this off'17 September, 18:22
The operation, which was delayed three hours due to a storm, began at 9:00am Monday and lasted until 4:00am Tuesday, taking longer than the twelve hours expected but yielding better results than previously hoped for.
The mammoth cruiser - roughly twice the size of the Titanic - had lurched, semi-submerged on its side off Tuscany's Giglio Island since January 2012, when 32 people died in one of the worst maritime disasters in Italian history.
Senior salvage master Nick Sloane, a South African in charge of the cruise ship's rotation, said that "few countries in the world" other than Italy would have been able to put together resources needed for an operation of this scale.
Sloane was greeted like a star, welcomed with hugs and applause by Giglio residents and swarmed by journalists and cameras, after commanding the operation from a floating control room a few metres from the ship's carcass.
"I didn't expect people to react this way," Sloane said.
Sloane works for the Italian-US consortium Micoperi-Titan, which is in charge of the unprecedented salvage operation - the largest in the world.
"We took a bit longer, but the results were much better," Sloane said at a press conference. "It's wonderful to be able to tell you that the Concordia is in an upright position". "I didn't cry, but it was all very beautiful," Sloane said, adding that it was an experience comparable to "going on a roller coaster". "It was a perfect operation, I'd say," said Franco Porcellacchia, the head of the technical team of the ship's owners, Costa Cruises. The so-called parbuckling operation to right the wrecked liner, which weighs around 114,500 tonnes and was carrying around 4,000 people when it went down, involved lifting it off a rock shelf it had been lying on, and moving it to sit upright on an artificial underwater platform. The operation did not seem to have caused any major leaks of toxic substances, despite warning by critics of potential, disastrous spillage of the boat's contents. "I have heard everything and more," Gabrielli said of the various alarms raised.
"Some said the best hypothesis was sewage spillage (equivalent to that of) a city of I don't know how many inhabitants," added Gabrielli.
Yet the successful operation does not mark the end of the danger posed by the wrecked ship, Gabrielli said. "We will call the operation closed when the ship leaves Giglio (Island). Its presence is still a risk, even if there are preventative measures and effective safety precautions (that are being taken".
The ship will eventually be towed away to be broken up for scrap, although this part of the massive salvage operation is not expected to happen until better weather next year. Costa Cruise's Porchellacchia said he had made a preliminary inspection of the ship's damaged side by boat and found penetration by rocks less severe than feared. "The emerged side of the Concordia has a lot of damage, but it is not an insurmountable situation," said Porchellacchia.
Costa Cruises said last week that the cost of the salvage operation stood at 600 million euros, while stressing that the figure was rising.
The authorities said the top priority now it to find the bodies of the two victims of the disaster that have not yet been recovered.