Update: Sept. 17, 5 a.m. EDT: After 610 days on the rocky shore of Giglio, shortly after 4 a.m., a foghorn wailed on the harbor signaling that the Costa Concordia was finally brought upright. It is now resting safely on the specially built artificial seabed, at a depth of approximately 98 feet.
It took the 114,500-ton ship little more than a hour to partially sink when it capsized on January 13, 2012, and about 19 hours to be raised during a complex, unprecedented re-floating operation.
“It all went the way we thought and hoped. We are very happy,” said Franco Porcellacchia, the director of technical operations for Concordia’s owner, Costa Cruises.
The Giglio inhabitants erupted in a long applause.
Franco Gabrielli, head of the civil protection agency confirmed that the starboard side of the ship is heavily damaged. Indeed, a horrifying image of destruction emerges from that part of the wreck.
“It will need a serious intervention before we can place the other necessary caissons on that side,” Gabrielli said.
He added that so far there is no evidence of any significant spillage.
Now upright, the Concordia will have to wait until the spring 2014 to be towed away and meet her fate in an Italian port where she will be dismantled.
Update: Sept. 16, 7 p.m. EDT: The Concordia has entered the last phase of the rotation, reaching a crucial 24-degree angle.
“It’s a milestone,” project manager Sergio Girotto said. “This means the operation has gone beyond the point at which the wreck no longer needs to be pulled by the (jacks). The Concordia can now rotate under her own momentum and under the weight of the ballast water contained in the caissons.”
The salvage master, Nick Sloane, is now controlling the flow of water entering the caissons. Once they are completely filled, gravity will take over.
The engineers estimate that the remaining 40 degrees of rotation will be reached within two to four hours, ending the operation to right the vessel.
There are no signs yet of the bodies of two people among the 32 dead who have been missing since the ship capsized.
Update: Sept. 16, 4:15 p.m. EDT: A ghostly image of the Concordia wreck is now visible on a monitor, as engineers and crew stoically work through the night.
The Concordia’s rotation is steadily approaching the 24 degrees required for intake valves of 11 caissons to reach sea level. Once the caissons are filled with water, gravity will take over helping the rotation.
“If things proceed smoothly, we might be able to place the Concordia in a vertical position by Tuesday at 7 a.m.,” said Franco Porcellacchia, the director of technical operations for Concordia’s owner, Costa Cruises.
Update: Sept. 16, 2 p.m EDT: As night falls on Giglio, the Concordia has barely reached a 13-degree rotation, exposing about 13 feet of the submerged wreck.
“We had an issue which required about a hour to be solved. It was necessary to intervene with a dedicated team to avoid slack cables from interfering with the tensioned cables. This means the parbuckling will take much longer than thought,” Franco Gabrielli, head of the civil protection agency, said.
Work will continue nonstop through the night. It is now estimated the parbuckling operation will end at dawn on Tuesday.
Update: Sept. 16, 12: 10 p.m EDT: As a good portion of water-stained ship is now exposed, salvage workers are beginning to clean and disentangle chains and other materials from the side of the ship that has been submerged for nearly two years.
The Concordia has now rotated 10 degrees and will need to rotate at least as many before it has completed the first 20 degrees required for intake valves of 11 sponsons (projections at the side of the boat) to reach sea level.
It’s a steady progress, but still a long way to go.
“At the moment everything is going smoothly. We have no issues to worry about, but this is a very complex operation and we are not going to rush,” Girotto said.
That said, the delicate operation is going to continue well through the night and possibly into Tuesday.
Franco Porcellacchia, the director of technical operations at Concordia’s owner, Costa Cruises, denied a delay.
“We did not set up a date. Our goal is to get things done in the best possible way,” he said.
Update: Sept. 16, 8: 30 a.m. EDT: The Costa Concordia, the stricken cruise liner that capsized nearly two years ago on the rocky shore of the Tuscan island of Giglio killing 32 people, is being slowly raised from the waters of the Tyrrhenian sea revealing the dark, slimy legacy of her underwater past.
Two hours after the beginning of the operations, a portion of the submerged hull is clearly distinguishable by a dark colored strip which emerges in strong contrast with the exposed part of the hull.
One of the largest, most expensive and daunting salvage operations in history, the refloating of the Concordia began Monday morning, after a three-hour delay caused by a fierce overnight lightning storm.
The $800-million operation, called parbuckling, aims to upright the 114,500-ton ship and anchor her on large underwater platforms. The operation is being carried out by engineers of the U.S. Titan Salvage and Italian Micoperi companies who are aboard a barge near the Concordia’s bow.
The first phase, which was regarded as one of the most delicate steps of the entire recovery plan, consisted of dislodging the hull from the rock onto which it has molded itself.
“We can now say the hull has been freed from the rocks. It has been a slow, smooth process,” project manager Sergio Girotto said.
Steel cables tightened by hydraulic jacks began exerting a force of 2,000 tons on the ship’s rusting hull.
“We raised the pulling force through several steps. The hull detached itself from the rocks when a force of about 6,000 tons was applied,” Girotto said.
The Concordia is now rotated by 3 degrees. The operation requires a 65-degree rotation. From now on, technicians expect that the rotation can proceed with a gradually decreasing pulling force.
Franco Gabrielli, head of the civil protection agency added that underwater cameras show a large deformations on the starboard side of the ship.
“This is another confirmation that the parbuckling had to be done as soon as possible. We are keeping our eyes open as issues can occur even at the end of the operation, but so far we can say that our models and projects have proved to match the reality,” Gabrielli said.
Things are looking good also from an environmental point of view.
“The water is clear at the moment. We saw no significant spills, but it’s too early to say. We have just begun,” Gabrielli said.
Photos: Rossella Lorenzi