The Costa Concordia disaster, which killed 32 people, left salvage teams battling to pull off the biggest salvage operation of its kind in history, facing the removal a 114,500 ton ship without spilling its rotting contents into the sea.
The one-time luxury liner, lies covered in seaweed where it capsized on Giglio island in January, overlooked by giant cranes provided by US company Titan salvage, alongside Italian offshore rig company Micoperi. The salvage teams want to re-float the vast ship, a truly ambitious and costly undertaking.
The rusting wreck is grounded on two large outcrops close to the shore, and could conceivably slip from them when righted, plunging into the depths, so 26 pillars are being driven into the seabed – these supporting a series of underwater platforms (as big as football fields) – to rest the vessel on.
Once stable enough, several 500 ton metal tanks will be welded onto the ship sides – to balance the giant whilst it is pulled into an upright position by two cranes – a nerve-jangling exercise in precision. The past seven days have seen 66 divers completing the task of placing a staggering 17,500 tons of cement bags, between the ship and the seabed, in a 50-metre gap.
All this is being done to ensure that the wreck does not break in half in bad weather over the coming winter. The risk from pollution is making this a long and drawn-out affair, liable to cost half-a-billion dollars, but preservation of the local marine environment is seen as paramount
To this end, marine park life is being monitored by a 15-man team led by Giandomenico Ardizzone, professor in environmental biology at Rome’s Sapienza University, who have been painstakingly saving rare giant mussels from the area around the stricken ship, and to try keeping whales or dolphins away from the Concordia, because the drilling could damage their hearing, even over a long distance, and must be halted if they are found to be present. In order to limit intense vibrations and noise, plans are being drawn up for a bubble wall – created by air bubbles and released from a pipe on the seabed – to form a buffer curtain at times of most intense salvage activity, and also to create a barrier to trap pollution, should stagnant water from inside the ship should spill out.