The Costa Concordia, the shipwrecked cruise liner that lay half-submerged in the water beside the Italian island of Giglio since last year, is upright and resting on an underwater platform after engineers successfully completed a salvage maneuver. In the operation, known as “parbuckling,” a shipwreck is gingerly rotated back onto its keel:
Parbuckling is a standard operation to right capsized ships but never before had it been used on such a huge cruise liner.
The Concordia is expected to be floated away from Giglio in the spring.
[Chief salvage master Nick] Sloane said an initial inspection of the starboard side, covered in brown slime from its 20 months under water, indicated serious damage that must be assessed and fixed in the coming months. But Sloane seemed confident: “She was strong enough to come up like this, she’s strong enough to be towed.”
The starboard side of the ship, which was raised 65 degrees in the operation, must be stabilized to enable crews to attach empty tanks on the side that will later be used to help float the vessel away. Currently, the ship is about two-thirds submerged, engineers said.
Such tanks were affixed to the exposed port side of the ship and were filled with water to help pull the port side down.
The ship must be made strong enough to withstand the winter storm season, when high seas and gusts will likely buffet the 300-meter (1,000-foot) long liner.
After receiving cheers, embraces and a kiss from his wife on shore, Sloane said he wanted to get some sleep, a beer “and maybe a barbecue tomorrow.” . . .
Helping the Concordia to weather the winter is an artificial platform on the seabed that was constructed to support the ship’s flat keel.
About an hour before the rotation was complete, observers said the ship seemed to suddenly settle down upon its new perch, with a clear brown-green line of algae drawn across its front delineating the half of the liner that had been underwater.
Sloane’s crew took special precautions not to further damage the ship because of the risk of ecological contamination:
Preparations for the salvage operation took 14 months, and the cost has increased to $799 million from $300 million and could rise further, according to Costa Cruises. The Costa Concordia has been stabilized with anchors and cement bags, and underwater platforms have been built on the port side. Salvage crews used pulleys, strand jacks and steel cables placed on nine caissons attached to the left side of the ship to slowly dislodge it on Monday from the two rocks where it had been resting.
The operation was monitored by engineers and remotely operated vehicle pilots from a control room on a barge close to the bow of the ship. If images or sonar showed dangerous twisting, the technicians could adjust the process. At a command center onshore, engineers could intervene if the ship did not rotate, or did not rotate properly.
Salvage masters and the Italian authorities had prepared for complications. Most of the fuel was siphoned off within months of the wreck. But the vessel that once transported and entertained 4,229 people still contains chemicals and diesel fuel that could leak into the pristine waters for which Giglio, a popular tourist spot, is known.
During the rotation process, the region’s environmental agency took samples to monitor water quality.
For Italians, successfully righting the ship was a chance to redeem themselves after the shipwreck. The Concordia’s captain has been charged with manslaughter and other crimes in connection with the shipwreck, in which 32 people died. Many felt that the entire episode was a national embarrassment:
After the floating palace of delights hit a rock, the available evidence suggests that its captain, Francesco Schettino, refused to acknowledge the seriousness of what had happened, delayed giving the order to abandon ship and then took to a lifeboat himself, long before the chaotic evacuation was complete. At 1.46am, he was called on his mobile telephone by the local coast guard commander, Gregorio de Falco, who recorded their conversation.
Made available on newspaper Web sites, the ensuing four minutes, in which De Falco urges, instructs and finally orders his compatriot to do his duty, could scarcely be more emblematic. Writing in Corriere della Sera, the critic Aldo Grasso called the transcript “the document that most exemplifies the two souls of Italy”.
On the one hand, a “captain who flees from his responsibilities as a man and an officer”; on the other, a compatriot “who understands immediately the dimensions of the tragedy and tries to call the coward to [fulfil] his obligations”.
Looked at rationally, the wrecking of the Costa Concordia ought not perhaps to be made to bear the weight of meaning heaped on it. Even if none of those missing are found, the number of dead will be no greater than in an average week on Britain’s roads.
But shipwrecks cannot be assessed rationally. They call to something deep inside us. The shipwreck, wrote Grasso, was “one of the archetypes in all literatures because it illustrates the risks of human existence in the course of the journey through life”.
And at this moment in the life of Italy a shipwreck is almost painfully metaphoric. Like Captain Schettino, the former prime minister Silvio Berlusconi delayed taking vital decisions as his country floated progressively closer to a reef marked “euro zone debt crisis”.
For Massimo Gramellini of La Stampa, “The ship lying on its side [is a] symbol of the country adrift.” On the very day the Costa Concordia hit the rocks, the world’s biggest ratings agency, Standard & Poor’s, again downgraded Italy’s creditworthiness, this time to a level below that accorded to Slovakia and Slovenia.
“We had just come out of the tunnel of Bunga Bunga,” noted Caterina Soffici in a blog for the Web site of the left-leaning Il Fatto Quotidiano. “We were just drawing that little, relieved breath that would enable us to toil again up the hill to international credibility. But [now] … We’ve gone straight into the Titanic nightmare [and] Italy is once again the laughing stock of foreign newspapers.”
The salvage has cost nearly $800 million so far. The Concordia’s owner, Costa Cruises, is funding the operation.