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Refloating Costa Concordia — one of the biggest maritime operations in history

On Monday, authorities blocked water and airspace surrounding the Italian island of Giglio, just off the coast of Tuscany. They were preparing for a maritime operation touted as one of the biggest in history — refloating the shipwrecked Costa Concordia.

“Nervous? A little,” Nick Sloane told reporters. Sloane is the senior salvage master for Titan Salvage, the American company in charge of the operation. “Today we’ll find out if the calculations are right, or at least how distant they are from our predictions.”

Now, for the first time since the ship struck a reef and capsized in early 2012 taking 32 lives, Concordia is afloat, according to news reports. It’s hovering above the undersea platform where it has been resting since September, when engineers managed to get it upright during a 19-hour operation. In all, the refloating operation that began Monday is expected to take about a week.

Largest maritime salvage in history begins with the refloat of the Costa Concordia cruise ship in Italy. (Reuters)


Once the operation is complete, the ship will be towed to its port, Genoa, where it will be scrapped, BBC News reported. The work comes with a price tag of 1.5 billion euros ($2 billion), Costa Crociere SpA chief executive Michael Tamm told reporters.

The delicacy of the operation was dictated by fears the vessel would fall apart, releasing toxic materials into the sea and making it impossible to tow away anytime soon.

The ship weighs about 114,000 tons. The equipment necessary to refloat it — huge tanks called sponsons pumped full of air — add another 60 tons, creating a monstrous load that will be towed at a top speed of about two knots (about 2.3 miles per hour.)

The Costa Concordia is 290 meters (951 feet) long — the equivalent of nearly three football fields. It is 2½ times as heavy as the Titanic.

A search for the remains of Indian waiter Russel Rebello, whose body was not recovered, is expected, according to BBC News. Concordia’s Italian captain is being tried in Tuscany for manslaughter, accused of causing the shipwreck and abandoning the vessel before everyone on board was evacuated from the ship, the Associated Press reported.

Here are some nifty facts and figures from AFP:

  • It is currently resting on six purpose-built steel platforms — at a depth of about 31 meters — each of which is supported by 21 pillars over a meter thick plunged nine meters into the seabed.
  • Tanks: Thirty giant steel tanks or “sponsons” have been welded onto the ship, which will work as a pneumatic system to raise it and help stabilize it for the journey to a scrapyard in Genoa.
  • Pressured air will be pumped into the sponsons, expelling the water inside to float the ship. Two tanks added to provide extra buoyancy during the righting weigh 1,700 tons, or 7½ times the Statue of Liberty.
  • Cables: There are 36 steel cables and 56 chains wrapped underneath the wreck to hold the sponsons in place. Each cable is 58 meters (190 feet) long and the links weigh 205 kilograms (452 pounds) each.
  • Tugs: Four tug boats will be used to maneuver the ship into position before it departs for Genoa port: two at the portside and two at the stern.
  • Ten boats in total will accompany the Concordia up the Corsica Channel, carrying emergency equipment to be used in case of toxic leaks from the ship, including 800 meters of oil booms and infrared sensors to detect oil on water at night.
  • Scale: Five hundred salvage workers from 26 countries, including 120 divers, have taken part in the salvage and over 30,000 tons of steel have been used — equivalent to four times the weight of the Eiffel Tower.
Lindsey Bever is a general assignment reporter for The Washington Post. Tweet her: @lindseybever



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