Considered the largest maritime salvage operation in history, the refloating of the wrecked Costa Concordia cruise liner entered its final phase at first light on July 14.
The aim: raise the 114,000-ton vessel off the platform where it has been sitting for the past 10 months, after the capsized ship was placed upright in one of the most daunting salvage operations at sea ever attempted.
The first phase consists of refloating the hull by 6.5 feet and towing the ship about 98 feet in an easterly direction.
Technicians prepare for the operation from the control room installed aboard the Costa Concordia. They are directed by salvage master Nick Sloane, who successfully pulled the wreck upright last September.
The refloating operation is being carried out by engineers of the U.S. Titan Salvage and Italian Micoperi companies.
After various checks, everything appears to be ready for pumping compressed air and draining water from 30 watertight boxes, or sponsons, welded to the sides of the ship.
Software calculates how much air needs to be pumped into the sponsons.
Water is first pumped out from the stern sponsons.
A rusty line on the stern sponson indicates the ship is rising slightly.
Compressed air is pumped into the bow sponsons and water pours out of them. The same operation will have to be carried out on all of the other sponsons.
"The ship has been raised from the platform and is now floating," Franco Porcellacchia, the director of technical operations at Concordia's owner, Costa Cruises, announces.
The once-submerged white starboard sponsons are now appearing and are clearly visible.
The ship has been raised by 2 meters (6.5 feet) at the bow.
More impressive is the situation at the stern, where the ship has been raised by 4 meters (13 feet).
On the port side, haunting dark brown cabins, submerged since the disaster, are now visible.
The Costa Concordia is towed 98 feet away from the shore. It will have to be moored by anchors and steel cables and kept in place by tugs until work is done in the next couple of days to prepare the full refloating. The aim is to raise the massive ship by nearly 14 meters (46 feet).
Salvage crews worked through the night to secure the wrecked Costa Concordia cruise liner with anchors and chains in her new position some 98 feet away from the shore of Giglio.
The wreck is in stable position and securely moored.
Technicians are working to connect and make taught the last four chains and six cables under the rusting hull. It’s a delicate task: each chain ring weighs 400 kilos (880 lbs) and has a tension capability of 1,500 kilos (3,300 lbs). A video of the now floating hull, recorded by a fleet of seven ROVs (Remote Operated Vehicles), shows the chains underwater.
All work is monitored in a control room built on the highest deck aboard the Costa Concordia. There, a crew of 12 skilled people work under salvage master Nick Sloane. They're the same people who successfully rotated the capsized ship 10 months ago.
The underwater video shows a scrape near the bow area, says Franco Porcellacchia, the director of technical operations at Concordia's owner, Costa Cruises. However, the hull appears intact, with "no cracks at all," he said.
No sign of leaks have been seen around the ship so far, Franco Porcellacchia, director of technical operations with Costa Cruises, said at a press briefing. Indeed, Giglio's waters appear pristine even around the area where the salvage team is operating.
Almost at the end of the second day of the refloating, the Concordia appears to have been raised even more. A comparison between the stern sponsons clearly shows the ship has lifted in the past 24 hours.
Work continues to secure cables and chains under the hull of the Costa Concordia. Positioning the massive and heavy chains is a challenging job for divers, who have to face strong currents and the dangerous task of operating under a rusting hull that now floats, thanks to the sponsons welded on both sides of the ship.
A considerable quantity of water came out of the wrecked Costa Concordia during the first day of the refloating, but no significant pollution has been recorded so far around the ship. Water is analysed constantly, but so far tests did not show critical issues. They revealed a slight presence of tensioactives (compounds used in detergents) and a concentration of copper around the bow. "However, the values are within safety limits," Marcello Mossa Verre of the Regional Agency for Environmental ARPAT said at a press briefing.
Strong winds up to 27 knots forced the salvage team to stop their work last night. The operations to connect chains and cables resumed in the early morning. The Concordia is currently kept in position by two tugs, Garibaldo and Red Wolf, on the east. They are now joined by the Blizzard, another tugboat that arrived at the site yesterday. The picture was taken aboard the tug Resolve Earl, already on site. Along with Blizzard, Resolve Earl will tow the wreck from the bow during the voyage to Genoa.
Still two chains and four cables have to be connected to three of the starboard sponsons. “Last night strong winds and rough seas produced a six-hour delay, then there was a problem with a tangled chain,” Franco Gabrielli, head of the civil protection agency overseeing the salvage, said at the afternoon press briefing. The adverse weather and the issues with securing the chains may result in a delay with the removal. "Monday is our objective, but we look also to Tuesday,” Gabrielli said.
Giglio woke up to another sight of the Concordia, as dirt brown parts of the ship re-emerged. Work went on all night.
The fifth, battered deck of the Costa Concordia is out of water. The ship has emerged by 5 meters (16.40 feet)
The bow of the Costa Concordia seen from above the ship as it emerges.
The sign “Concordia” emerges below crashed cabins.
The tip of the Costa Concordia’s bow is now clearly visible. A good part of the deck 4, the so called deck of death, has also emerged. Here divers found most of the victims after the ship struck a rock off Giglio and capsized on Jan. 13, 2012.
As the Concordia continues to emerge, it releases water and some of its contents: clothes, suitcases, furniture, pillows, mattresses, life jackets are among the objects that are now being recovered from the waters around the ship.
Last night, oil spill, consisting of about 50 liters of hydrocarbons, was spotted in the mid ship-aft of the wreck. The area was cleaned through the use of absorbent booms.
A stream of tourists flocked to Giglio to watch the refloating operations. Some even got out their brushes and paints to immortalize the last weekend of the ship on the Tuscan island.
Meanwhile, the wreck has been lifted by 7.5 meter (24.6 feet). There are still other 6 meters (19.6 feet) to go.
The massive, rusting prow of the Costa Concordia is now out of the water.
A member of the salvage team enters the dark, violent side of the Concordia. The decks of once luxurious cabins are now a compressed and flattened rusting mass of metal with ripped curtains hanging from twisted windows.
Technicians, who have yet to lower the last starboard sponson, promise that all technical operations will be over by sunset.
"Unless a meteorite hits us, we are going to leave tomorrow," Franco Gabrielli, the head of Italy's Civil Protection, said.
As she gradually emerged from the waters, the wrecked Costa Concordia looked more and more like an awful sea beast with a dirty brown mouth wide open.
Salvage crews give the once gleaming white luxury liner a little makeup, cleaning the bow with jets of compressed air.
Refloating operations have finally ended. The Concordia is now ready to leave for her last voyage to Genoa. As the ship was constantly lifted in the past nine days, she lost 105,000 tons of water.
It’s the last night in Giglio for the Costa Concordia. After living with the wrecked ship for 2 1/2 years, residents of the Tuscan island feel a relief mixed with sadness at the idea of the ship’s departure tomorrow.
“She has been haunting us ever since the disaster. It’s a sight of death, devastation and sorrow,” said a shopkeeper at the port.
“But as odd as it might seem, I will miss her. I‘ll miss the lights always on at night. She kept me company in the winter days,” she said.
The big day has arrived, the Concordia is ready for her last cruise. Preliminary activities for the departure maneuvers have begun.
Aboard the Concordia, the salvage crew takes pictures of the historic moment.
The departure maneuvers begin. The wreck has been disconnected from the towers and connected to two tug boats. Rotation toward east begins.
A sailboat does not heed the 3-mile ban. It's escorted to the port by the Coast Guard.
The ship is ready to leave. Church bells, sirens and applause resound in the port as a huge water fountain sprang from one of the tugboats to signal the end of the maneuvering operations. After a 2 1/2 year stay, the Costa Concordia is saying goodbye to Giglio.
The ship leaves, towed from the bow by the Dutch Blizzard and the Vanuatu-flagged Resolve Earl, two strong tugboats able to tow 135 metric tons.
Five miles away from Giglio, the Concordia is an unreal sight, a rusty atoll with towering steel boxes on its sides.
Carrying 12 tons of toxic substances and polluted seawater, the wrecked ship is escorted by a 14-ship armada, one of the most impressive environmental disaster response convoys ever assembled.
In Giglio, operations to clean the epicenter of the disaster and return it to its original condition will begin next week.
Now all that remains of the Costa Concordia in the Tuscan islands is a plaster statue of the Madonna, which was recovered last year from the cruise liner's chapel by fire department divers. It stands in the church of San Lorenzo and Mamiliano, which was the immediate refuge for survivors on the night of the tragedy.
The Costa Concordia heading to Genoa.
The Costa Concordia looming the the Genoa horizon as it nears the port in Genoa.
Costa Concordia arriving at the Genoa port where it will be scrapped.