Date: May 20 2012
THE companies charged with raising the wreck of the Costa Concordia have set out in detail how they will refloat the ship and tow it to the Italian mainland, in what is described as the largest maritime salvage operation ever undertaken.
The 114,500-tonne ship, which capsized four months ago and is lying on its side in shallow water metres off the tiny Tuscan island of Giglio, will be pulled upright by cranes on to a submerged platform, refloated and towed to the mainland for breaking up. The operation is due to start this week.
''This is the largest refloat in history,'' said Captain Richard Habib, head of US salvage firm Titan Salvage, which has teamed with Italian company Micoperi to mount the operation, set to cost more than $US300 million ($A304 million), according to the ship's operator, Costa Crociere.
''It's not impossible but it is unprecedented,'' Captain Habib said.
''The technique is standard but the next largest vessel with which we have attempted this type of salvage was a 35,000-tonne ship in Alaska,'' said assistant project manager Guidotti Alvaro.
Trying to steer close to Giglio on the night of January 13, Captain Francesco Schettino steered the ship on to submerged rocks that tore a long hole in the port side, allowing water to rush into lower decks. As the ship listed, Captain Schettino steered it on to shallow rocks, where it grounded and tilted slowly on to its starboard side, frustrating efforts to lower lifeboats.
During a confused evacuation, 32 of the 4200 passengers and crew died, many wearing lifejackets and trapped in waiting areas that suddenly filled with water as the ship listed. The bodies of two passengers, an Indian and an Italian, have yet to be found.
Within days, the salvage team will start building a 40-square-metre undersea platform on the seaward side of the ship where the rock shelf slips away to deeper water. A massive panel of empty metal boxes will then be soldered to the exposed port side of the ship.
Two cranes fixed to the platform will be used to roll the ship into an upright position on the platform.
As the metal boxes tilt into the water, water will be pumped into them to help the ship's movement, while cables attached to the land will ensure the ship does not slide off the platform.
''The rolling of the vessel and the subsequent refloating will be the most risky moments of the operation,'' said Captain Habib. Asked if he had a plan B should the scheme fail, he replied: ''We think it is going to work.''
Once upright, the team will attach another panel of metal boxes to the starboard side. Water will then be pumped from the boxes, prompting the ship to float. It will then be towed to an unnamed port to be demolished.
''We aim to get it upright at the start of this [northern] winter and refloat in early 2013,'' Captain Habib said.
A Dutch salvage company has pumped out the ship's fuel tanks, averting fears of a spill into the surrounding protected marine park.
Captain Schettino is under house arrest, accused of causing the collision, multiple manslaughter and abandoning ship before all passengers were evacuated. The next hearing in his trial is scheduled for July 21.
This material is subject to copyright and any unauthorised use, copying or mirroring is prohibited.
[ Canberra Times | Text-only index]