Cruise Industry: Inside the Costa Concordia refloat project

The operation to salvage Costa Concordia has involved several major operations, including rolling the massive cruise liner upright, fixing dozens of huge steel floatation tanks to her hull and refloating her by filling them with air. The whole process has taken two-and-a-half-years and now as it draws to its astronomically expensive close, Cruise Arabia & Africa takes a look at where things stand off the island of Giglio.

Costa Concordia is floating again, the salvage operation to refloat the cruise ship is progressing well
Costa Concordia is floating once more, Costa Cruises confirmed on the third day of a complex operation to fully re-float the stricken cruise liner and tow her away for scrapping. The Italian cruise line, part of the Carnival Corporation, also confirmed that the costs of the salvage project had soared significantly to around USD $2-billion.

As of Wednesday morning, the wreck of Costa Concordia had been raised 4m at the bow and 2m at the stern off of an underwater platform that was built to create a false seabed for the cruise liner when she was turned upright in a complex ‘parbuckling’ operation.

The bow has also been towed 30m out to sea, while the stern has been towed 20m as the cruise ship is slowly and carefully maneuvered away from the coast of the island of Giglio during the re-floating procedure.

These achievements for the salvage team, which is headed by South African salvage expert Nick Sloane, mark the end of the first stage in the days-long re-floating operation, which involves pumping air into steel sponsons that have been fixed to either side of the half-submerged cruise ship.

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It was necessary to tow the ship away from the coast for the safety of the crippled vessel, but also so that divers in the salvage team can inspect the hull and determine whether the ship’s structural integrity will allow it to be towed the more than 100 nautical miles to Genoa for scrapping.

The partial re-float of the ship is the first of several stages over the next few days as each submerged deck is raised out of the ocean and drained of water via the slight tilt to the ship. It is expected that Concordia will be ready for towing as early as Monday next week if the project continues as planned.

Speaking to the media on the island of Giglio off the Italian mainland, Costa CEO Michael Thamm confirmed that the costs of the salvage operation had increased considerably, to 1.5-billion euros (USD $2-billion), or roughly twice the annual net-profit for the whole of Carnival Corporation group in 2013.

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“The refloat will cost more than a 1 billion euros, but this is not including transport or demolition,” Thamm said of the salvage operation, which is the largest of its kind in history. “It will be nearer 1.5 billion euros once all that has been taken into account.”

Costa Concordia capsized off the coast of Giglio after striking a submerged rock during a controversial ‘sail by’ or ‘salute’ to the island, which brought the cruise ship much closer to shore than she would otherwise have been.

Some 32 people were killed in the incident, with 150 seriously injured. The sinking raised serious questions about cruise ship safety and the training of the crew aboard the ship. Her captain, Francesco Schettino along with several of his officers is charged with involuntary manslaughter, causing a ship wreck and abandoning ship while passengers, including women and children, were still trying to get to shore.

Of the 32 people killed in the accident, the bodies of all except one have been recovered. Russel Rebello, a waiter aboard the ill-fated ship, has never been found. Officials have confirmed that the seabed beneath Concordia will be searched again for his remains after the ship departs for Genoa and if nothing is found, then the cruise ship itself will be thoroughly inspected before scrapping begins.

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