The biggest salvage operation of a passenger ship is poised to get underway in Italy. Two and a half years after she ran aground off Giglio Island with the loss of 32 lives in January 2012, the Costa Concordia will be pulled from the rocks and taken to the Port of Genoa for scrapping.
At 290m, the luxury line is the length of three football fields – twice the size of the Titanic.
It was dragged upright in September after keeling over on its side, and is being refloated using air tanks attached. The ship has been raised by six metres so far since the refloating operation began on July 14 and salvage engineers said they were aiming to float it by a further four to tow it through the Corsica Channel and on to northwest Italy.
The Costa Concordia struck a group of rocks just off the Tuscan island on the night of January 13 with 4,229 people from 70 countries on board, just as passengers were settling down for supper on the first day of their cruise.
The cost of the entire salvage operation including the scrapping is estimated at 1.5 billion euros ($A2.25 billion).
To date, the operation has been led by South African Nick Sloan on behalf of the Anglo-Italian Titan Micoperi company, but taking over the final process will be Dutch tugboat captain, Hans Bosch.
Talking to the clutch of international reporters gathered at the site, Bosch said he was confident in his role and has experience of towing ships as large as the Concordia before.
Whilst the Concordia will be accompanied by a 14 ship fleet of salvage experts, environmentalists and pollution response teams, the two key ships in the pack are the two tugs which will tow the Concordia from the front. Bosch will travel in the Blizzard tug, leading the team.
According to reports, the effort will use 70 millimetre chains at a distance of 700-800 metres from the ship, and the two tugs will pull the cruise ship along at 2.5 knots per hour. The wreck has been trussed up in a steel straightjacket created by flotation devices attached to both its sides.
Experts still do not know how the Costa Concordia, which has been two thirds submerged in the Mediterranean for the past 30 months, will react once it is hauled past Corsica and hits the open sea, which Bosch admits will be the greatest challenge.
Bosch told reporters that should the weather turn blustery, as is forecast, the fleet would take shelter close to the Tuscan/Ligurian coastline.
Only a few days ago, technicians detected traces of engine fuel and sulphuric acid H25 during the complicated refloat process. At the time, project engineer, Franco Porcellachia, described the spill as 'very modest', but indicated there may be more dislodged during the removal process.
Greenpeace has said it will follow the operation closely because of concern that the ship could spill toxic waste into the sea, although officials have pointed out that the environmental impact has been relatively minimal so far.
The towing will begin after the arrival of a ferry from the mainland at 0630 GMT on Tuesday (1730 AEDT) and engineers said it would take up to six hours to drag the 114,500-tonne ship into position.
Follow it live at http://news.discovery.com/earth/oceans/costa-concordia-refloating-live-at-the-scene-140715.htm