It's Almost Time To Flip The Shipwrecked Costa Concordia -- Here's How The Complex Plan Will Go Down

It’s been more than a year since the
cruise ship Costa Concordia struck a reefoff the shore of Isola del Giglio, in the Mediterranean, leading to a wreck that cost 30 passengers their lives.

Yet the enormous ship is still sitting off the Italian coast, mostly submerged, in the middle of a nationally protected marine park and coral reef.

The ingenious salvage operation — called the “Parbuckling Project” — involves building a series of underwater platforms onto which the Costa Concordia will be lifted upright (parbuckled), then floated up and towed away.

Nearly all the preparations have been completed, and the crucial phase of the plan — the parbuckling itself — is about to go down: Italian regulators have greenlighted the operation for this month.

The teams on site will have only one chance to flip the ship upright. If it goes wrong, the backup plan is to break up the ship where it lies, at a huge cost to the local environment.

Here’s what’s happened so far, and how the teams hope it will go.

The salvage operation is expected to cost $US400 million (insurance companies are footing the bill).

After the wreck, workers raced to secure the ship. They worked around the clock, 24 hours a day and 7 days a week.

111 salvage divers worked underwater, going around the clock in 45-minute shifts.

One of the biggest dangers has been weather: The ship is held in place by steel cables, but it could be dislodged by a strong storm. It's now sitting on two underwater mountain peaks. If it sinks, salvaging it would be nearly impossible.

Fortunately, tests have shown no alterations of the water around the site, which remains as clean as it was before the wreck.

The plan is to flip the ship upright, then tow it away.

But right now, it's filled with seawater so it won't float. To create buoyancy, the teams are welding enormous, hollow steel boxes onto each side of the ship.

They started with the exposed side. Before beginning, workers had to take a four-day mountain climbing course.

They also attached steel cables that will be used to pull the ship upright.

The next, crucial step is the parbuckling itself. The ship will be rotated using hydraulic pulleys.

(Source: CBS News)

Once this process begins, it can't be stopped, even if something goes wrong. It will take several days.

If all goes well, the Costa Concordia will come to rest on a huge underwater platform built for the operation.

All of the steel used in the platform will weigh 3 times as much as the Eiffel Tower.

The platforms are embedded in holes drilled in the seafloor.

After the parbuckling, more of the hollow boxes (called sponsons) will be welded onto the other side of the ship.

(Source: CBS News)

The sponsons should add enough buoyancy to make the ship float.

(Source: CBS News)

Then the defunct cruise liner can be towed away and cut up for scrap -- a process that's expected to last two years.

If the parbuckling goes wrong, the backup plan is to break up the ship where it lies, and likely damage the sensitive local environment.

(Source: CBS News)

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