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Costa Concordia Breaks Records, This Time for Marine Salvage

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Yesterday was the start of the record-breaking process of lifting and removing the 114,500-ton Costa Concordia from the coast of the Italian island of Giglio. The cruise ship has been left on its side for over 20 months following the January 2013 crash that killed 32 people.  In addition to moving the ship, crews are also looking for the bodies of crew member Russel Rebello and passenger Maria Grazia Trecarichi.

The salvage operation is one of the largest and costliest ever attempted. Using a nautical technique known as parbuckling, the ship has more than 50 chains attached to it that are operating a complex system of pulleys and counterweights to detach it from the sea reef. Included in the parbuckling process is a 11 “sponsons,” which are hollow steel compartments, welded to upturned side of the hull. The sponsons, which are up to 11-stories high, are flooded with water to assist in the rotation of the ship.

Engineers have stated that they are confident the parbuckling operation will work. However, this technique has never been attempted on a vessel of this deteriorated condition and size–the Costa Concordia is double the weight of the Titanic. 

costa concordia marine salvageSo far the ship is making progress, despite a few setbacks. On Monday, September 16, 6,000 tons of force were applied to successfully detach the ship from the reef. The work did take longer than the projected 10-12 hours and continue into Tuesday.

On 4am Tuesday morning, the ship was set upright and the parbuckling was complete. The work involved slowly rotating the vessel until it was s on six custom-made platforms with an artificial seabed.

The two bodies have yet to be recovered.

A multi-national team of 500 has been working since April 2012 to put the salvage plan to action. The project is projected to cost over 600 million euros ($795 million USD), making it most expensive maritime wreck recovery ever.

In addition to raising concerns over the hefty price tag in the European age of austerity, the project has also been criticized by environmentalists. The common concern is the parbuckling could cause a toxic waste spill that would pollute the Mediterranean waters. Upon completion, Franco Porcellacchia, leader of Costa Cruise’s technical team, announced there was no evidence of environmental impact.

Once the ship has been set upright, it will be stay in place off Giglio for winter due to seasonal storms. After the ship and the weather is stabilitized, it is expected to be towed in spring of 2014 to another Italian port in Tuscany, where it will be broken up for scrap.

Curious about the Costa Concordia? Watch the ship being raised in real-time live on Reuters or the BBC.

For more background on this incident, check out:

By Peter Greenberg for Peter Greenberg Worldwide Radio

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