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Costa Concordia removal to begin in June

Officials say salvage of damaged cruise liner planned for summer

10 January, 16:49
Costa Concordia removal to begin in June (By Sandra Cordon) (ANSA) - Rome, January 10 - Removal of the Costa Concordia cruise liner that sank off the coast of Tuscany in January 2012 will begin in June, civil protection officials said Friday.

"We confirm that the timing for the removal of the vessel will be the month of June," Franco Gabrielli, civil protection chief, told a press conference.

The final choice of a port where the cruise liner will be hauled for salvage should be made in March, he added.

Right now, 12 ports and companies from at least six different nations are bidding for the job of salvaging the enormous cruise liner destroyed in Italy's worst maritime disaster since the Second World War.

The government "would prefer a national" bid for the job, with Italian ports in Piombino, Genoa, Palermo and Civitavecchia all in contention, said Andrea Orlando, the minister of the environment.

Palermo Mayor Leoluca Orlando said his city and its unions are ready to tackle the job, should their Sicilian shipyard win the contract.

"It would be a significant choice and great support for Palermo," said the mayor.

Thirty-two people died and hundreds were injured in the crash off the Tuscan island of Giglio two years ago when the cruise ship, carrying more than 4,000 passengers and crew members, struck a rock formation and sank after it sailed too close to the island.

The ship's ex-captain, Francesco Schettino, is on trial for multiple charges of manslaughter and dereliction of duty in leaving his post during the chaos after the cruise liner began to sink. He could face 20 years in prison if convicted.

Earlier this week, a panel of judges in Tuscany said experts will board the vessel on January 23, weather permitting, to investigate certain equipment that only became accessible after a major operation in September that turned the lurching, semi-submerged wreck upright.

The new forensic examination of the Costa Concordia wreck is related to the criminal trial and comes after requests put to the court by the consumer group Codacons and the criminal defense for Schettino. The complex operation in September took almost 24 hours and since then efforts have been made to keep the ship upright and stable until it is towed away and dismantled. The entire project to remove the stricken Concordia from the island of Giglio has already cost more than 600 million euros, said Michael Thamm, the chief executive officer of Costa Cruises.

And its impact has been enormous, Thamm told the news conference he shared with Gabrielli.

"This incident is part of our DNA, and we will never forget it," said Thamm.

"Our mission is to make sure that never happens again, not only for Costa but throughout the cruise industry". Schettino continues to argue that he was a hero, helping to rescue passengers after the ship crashed on a rock formation.

However, comments from the black box aboard the Costa Concordia cruise liner played in a Tuscan courtroom last month during the ex-captain's trial revealed that crewmembers feared running aground even before impact.

"It's too close, this is crazy!" said an anonymous voice from the ship's command center before it slammed into rocks and partially capsized after it took a new route around Giglio Island as ordered by Schettino.

The black box recordings were played as prosecutors heard testimony from First Officer Ciro Ambrosio, who plea-bargained a sentence of one year and 11 months for multiple manslaughter.

Italy's supreme Cassation Court will review on January 31 an appeal motion against the plea bargain made with him and four other staff members involved in the Costa Concordia crash.

Prosecutors in Florence late last year contested a judge's lighter jail sentences as part of the bargain given in July to the five, each accused of multiple manslaughter.

Prosecutors argue the suspects did not earn their plea bargain, "having made no particular contribution to the investigations" with their "generic testimony".