Operation to raise capsized cruise ship under way
By Frances D'Emilio, APGIGLIO ISLAND, Italy--A complex system of pulleys and counterweights on Monday gently began lifting up the Costa Concordia cruise ship from its side on a Tuscan reef where it capsized in 2012, an anxiously awaited operation of a kind that has never been attempted on such a huge liner.
September 17, 2013, 12:08 am TWN
Engineer Sergio Girotto said the operation to right the ship began at about 9 a.m. (0700GMT) Monday, three hours late.
The delay was due to an early morning storm that pushed back the scheduled positioning of a floating command room center close to the wreckage. Once it was in place, engineers using remote controls began guiding a synchronized leverage system of pulleys, counterweights and huge chains looped under the Concordia's carcass to delicately nudge the ship free from its rocky seabed perch just outside Giglio Island's harbor.
The goal is to raise it from its side by 65 degrees to vertical, as a ship would normally be, for eventual towing. The operation was expected to take some 10-12 hours, with the initial hours winching the ship off the reef imperceptible to the unaided eye.
The operation, known in nautical parlance as parbuckling, is a proven method to raise capsized vessels.
The USS Oklahoma was parbuckled by the U.S. military in 1943 after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. But the 300-meter (1,000-foot), 115,000-ton Concordia has been described as the largest cruise ship ever to capsize and subsequently require the complex rotation.
The Concordia crashed into a reef on a winter's night Jan. 13, 2012. Thirty-two people were killed after the captain steered the luxury liner too close to the rocky coastline of Giglio, part of a chain of islands in pristine waters.
For over a year, residents of the fishing island have watched from shore as cranes and barges have moved into place to try to remove the hulk from their port. A few dozen gathered Monday morning on a breakwater to witness the operation getting underway, while others glimpsed it from shore as they went about their daily business.
“We're Holding Our Breath,” read the headline in Monday's Il Tirreno daily. One woman walking her dog near the harbor sported a “Keep Calm and Watch the Parbuckling Project.”
“There is a little tension now. The operation is very complex,” said Giovanni Andolfi, a 63-year-old resident who spent his career at sea working on tankers and cruise ships and watched the operation from port.
Asked how long it would take for people on shore to see the ship making significant movement toward the vertical, engineer Girotto said that “after a couple of hours, you should be able to see something visible from a distance.”
The first couple of hours will be critical, engineers predicted. Pieces of the granite seabed are embedded in the submerged side of the hull, which divers haven't been able to fully inspect.
Despite the violent capsizing, no major pollution has been detected in the waters near the ship. Fuel was siphoned out early in the salvage operation, but food and human waste are still trapped inside. Should the Concordia break apart during the rotation, or spew out toxic materials as it is raised, absorbent barriers were set in place to catch any leaks.