Giglio: Two and a half years after it ran aground with catastrophic consequences, the Costa Concordia is to be refloated - the final phase of a salvage operation in which it will be towed to a port and broken up for scrap.
The liner, which hit rocks off the island of Giglio with the loss of 32 lives, is resting on a specially constructed platform of steel girders and thousands of sacks of cement.
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Costa Concordia wreck set to move
Giglio residents welcome news that the Costa Concordia cruise ship, which sank in 2012 killing 32 people, is finally scheduled to be refloated and towed away.
In an operation starting today, air will be pumped into the 30 giant boxlike compartments welded to its hull, forcing out seawater and raising the vessel by about 13 metres.
Weather permitting, it will then be towed from Giglio on Sunday.
It will come as an immense relief to islanders, for whom the sight of the ship - stranded like a great white whale outside Giglio's principal port - has been a constant reminder of the tragedy.
But there will be little cause for celebration, according to Sergio Ortelli, the mayor of Giglio. "Once the ship is removed from our island, no one will be celebrating because even after two years the tragedy of what we witnessed remains," he said. "We want this final phase to be over as soon as possible."
The salvage operation comes in the middle of the tourist season, and locals are concerned that it will deter holidaymakers, especially as ferry services from the mainland town of Porto Santo Stefano will be disrupted.
More than 2000 tons of fuel were removed from the ship's tanks in the weeks after the disaster, and so far there has been very little pollution on Giglio's pristine bays and beaches. But there are fears that once the ship begins to leave the island, pulled by four tugs, it could release a noxious soup of rotting food, chemicals and decomposing fittings.
Activists from Greenpeace Italy and members of Legambiente, an Italian environmental organisation, will shadow the ship in a small boat as it is towed the 320 kilometres to Genoa.
With the ship travelling at about three kilometres an hour, the journey is expected to take five days. It will pass through the middle of a vast marine reserve, extending from the Italian coast towards Corsica, which protects a large resident population of dolphins and whales.
It will also sail close to the Tuscan archipelago of islands, including Monte Cristo, a nature reserve, and Elba, a popular holiday destination.
The 289 metre ship will be broken up for scrap in the same port where it was built. The vessel was completed in the shipyards of the Italian company Fincantieri in 2005 and entered service a year later.
The Concordia ran aground as its captain, Francesco Schettino, tried to perform a "salute" to the island for the benefit of members of the crew. He claims that the rocks the ship hit were not marked on his charts, but marine experts have said that even if that was true, he should never have attempted to venture so close. Captain Schettino is on trial in Grosseto, in Tuscany, charged with manslaughter and abandoning ship.
After the disaster the ship lay on its side, half-submerged, until it was righted in September during a complex operation that took nearly 24 hours and involved 500 salvage experts from 20 nations.
It was hauled upright with the help of hydraulic jacks, massive cables and the giant compartments, known as sponsons, welded on to its port and starboard sides.