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