It is hoped that the islanders of Giglio will soon see their horizon clear. The operation to get the Concordia off their coast is a record-breaker. The biggest ship ever righted like this was no more than 100 metres from prow to stern. This cruise liner is nearly three times that in length, with four times the steel in it than there is iron in the Eiffel Tower. Divers have built a platform 30 metres down that would cover a football field and half again.
Franco Porcellachia, the Vice-President of Carnival Corporation, owners of the wreck, said that what is also special about this project is that getting it up is one thing; keeping it up is another; they didn’t have anything to rest it on; that’s why they had to build a bed for it, adding to the titanesque task.
The platform on 21 pillars has to support the hull in some measure. Tanks fixed to the side of the vessel exposed to the air will give the mass flotation once giant cranes and water counter-ballast have heaved it over. When it’s up, more tanks will be attached to the crushed side, and then it can be towed away to the scrapyard. The cost of this comes to some 600 million euros, employing 500 people, from many countries.
The cost of the Concordia new was in the order of 422 million euros. It was christened in 2006 – one of the biggest cruise ships Italy had ever built. They called it a temple of luxury and fun: its 114,000 tonnes stretched out over 290 metres. But when the traditional bottle of lucky champagne was swung against it, it failed to smash as it’s supposed to.
So far, major pollution at the site has been avoided. The ship’s fuel was removed. Floating barriers are still in place around it in case leaks do develop. Robotics technology is being used to scan for precise measurements, to produce 3-D imaging of the damaged hull as it is subjected to stresses and pressures in the salvage operation. Crews, experts and observers are all starkly aware that the bodies of two as-yet unfound victims may appear.
Nicholas Sloane, senior salvage master, said: ‘‘It’s a big concern to everyone especially us and the families, so when we bring it upright we’ll have underwater cameras that will see exactly what is on the seabed and the authorities will be looking for the missing people – that’s one of the priorities.”
Another specialist said it was critical to get the Concordia out without the ship falling apart. The engineers in charge know the probability of having a second chance to do this are extremely limited.