The Costa Concordia was successfully refloated Monday in preparation to be towed away for scrapping, 30 months after the ship hit a reef off the Coast of Italy and capsized, killing 32 people.

Authorities expressed satisfaction that the operation to float the Concordia from an underwater platform had proceeded without a hitch. Technicians were preparing to shift it some 30 metres and then anchor the massive cruise ship before ending the day’s operations.

The entire operation to remove the Concordia from the reef and float it to Genoa, where it will be scrapped, will cost a total of $2-billion, Costa Crociere SpA CEO Michael Tamm told reporters.

The heavily listing ship was dragged upright in a daring manoeuvre last September, and then crews fastened huge tanks to its flanks to float it. Towing is set to begin July 21.

“The operation [Monday] began well, but it will be completed only when we have finished the transport to Genoa,” Italian Environment Minister Gian Luca Galletti told reporters.


When the ship begins its journey, it will come as an immense relief to islanders, for whom the sight of the ship — stranded like a great white whale outside Giglio’s principal port — has been a constant reminder of the tragedy.

But there will be little cause for celebration, according to Sergio Ortelli, the mayor of Giglio. “Once the ship is removed from our island, no one will be celebrating because even after two years the tragedy of what we witnessed remains,” he said. “We want this final phase to be over as soon as possible.”

Franco Gabrielli, who heads the Civil Protection Department has promised that a search will be conducted for the only unrecovered body of the Costa Concordia shipwreck victims as soon as the wrecked cruise liner is towed away. Gabrielli said it was a “great sorrow” the body of an Indian waiter was never found.

The salvage operation comes in the middle of the tourist season, and locals are concerned that it will deter holidaymakers, especially as ferry services from the mainland town of Porto Santo Stefano will be disrupted.

More than 2,000 tons of fuel were removed from the ship’s tanks in the weeks after the disaster, and so far there has been very little pollution on Giglio’s pristine bays and beaches. But there are fears that once the ship begins to leave the island, pulled by four tugs, it could release a noxious soup of rotting food, chemicals and decomposing fittings.

Activists from Greenpeace Italy and members of Legambiente, an Italian environmental organization, will shadow the ship in a small boat as it is towed the 320 kilometres to Genoa.

With the ship travelling at about three kilometres miles an hour, the journey is expected to take five days. It will pass through the middle of a vast marine reserve, extending from the Italian coast towards Corsica, which protects a large resident population of dolphins and whales.

It will also sail close to the Tuscan archipelago of islands, including Monte Cristo, a nature reserve, and Elba, a popular holiday destination.

The ship will be broken up for scrap in the same port where it was built. The vessel was completed in the shipyards of the Italian company Fincantieri in 2005 and entered service a year later.

The Concordia ran aground as its captain, Francesco Schettino, tried to perform a “salute” to the island for the benefit of members of the crew. He claims that the rocks the ship hit were not marked on his charts, but marine experts have said that even if that was true, he should never have attempted to venture so close. Capt Schettino is on trial in Grosseto, in Tuscany, charged with manslaughter and abandoning ship.

After the disaster the ship lay on its side, half-submerged, until it was righted in September during a complex operation that took nearly 24 hours and involved 500 salvage experts from 20 nations.

It was hauled upright with the help of hydraulic jacks, massive cables and the giant compartments, known as sponsons, welded on to its port and starboard sides.

Source: news.nationalpost.com             Photos: AFP/Getty Images