On the night of January 13, 2012 the 952 foot luxury cruise ship Costa Concordia struck an underwater granite ledge that descends into deep water adjacent to the Italian Island of Giglio. The town near the wreck site and other locations on the island depend on tourism generated by the Palagos Marine Mammal Sanctuary.
The beauty of the area is one reason why cruise ships pass closely to the island and its rocky harbors. Passengers expect great views without binoculars or long camera lenses and many Masters of cruise ships provide photo opportunities for their guests.
In some places this is possible within the traffic lane, in the case of the Costa Concordia we know the ship was well outside the lane and late for its turn away from the island. This was found to be the result of negligence of the Master and two bridge personnel.
The mistakes that were made immediately after the impact are the real shame of this tragedy. Thirty two lives were lost because of delays in ordering abandon ship and a very poor showing by crew in calming, organizing, and evacuating the passengers and non-essential crew.
Early Salvage Efforts
From the start it became clear that this salvage operation would be the most expensive in the history of shipping.
The first big expense was stabilizing the ship which was in danger of slipping into deeper water that would have submerged it completely and caused much greater pollution and salvage expense.
Concrete and steel anchor points were attached to the seabed and a series of heavy steel trusses were installed along the length of the ship. These anchors and trusses helped stabilize the ship in the remainder of the winter when rough seas pound the West Coast of Italy.
In September of 2013 the work to seal the long gash in the hull of the ship was complete and nearly 2,500 tons of heavy fuel oil was removed from tanks throughout the ship using a process called hot tapping.
Environmental threats from other substances still posed considerable threat. Housekeeping and maintenance supplies for the many restaurants, swimming pools, and attractions mixed into the seawater that flooded nearly half the ship by volume. In a polluted area this may not be much of a risk but this is a national marine mammal sanctuary. As part of the European Union, Italy would ultimately be responsible for any damages not covered by Costa or its insurers. The Italian government and outraged public were determined to limit damage.
Turning the ship upright with cables attached to the submerged side of the ship and to powerful hydraulic rams took less than the twenty four hours predicted. The parbuckling operation was the largest ever and the original estimated cost of 300 million USD was soon exceeded.
Partial salvage of some furniture and equipment was completed as part of the search for two missing persons who were thought to be trapped under the ship as it rolled onto its side during a lifeboat evacuation on the starboard side. The remains were later found and identified.
Several news organizations provided a live stream of the parbuckling and as the ship came upright it was obvious thee damage from lying on the seabed for a year and a half caused more damage than the original opening in the hull. The ship was considered a total constructive loss by salvors.
If the ship could have been refloated sooner it may have been rebuilt nearby. The shipyards at Genoa produced the Concordia and that would be a short distance to tow the ship. The statement of total loss meant the ship would be scrapped. Ship breaking is a dirty and low margin business that is carried out where environmental and safety laws are minimal. This meant scrapping would have to take place outside the European Union or at a location with waivers. Turkey offered some options and has one of the more environmentally responsible ship breaking industries in the world.
Two compartments are attached to the sides of the ship to provide extra buoyancy and stability as the ship is towed to its final destination. The port side sponson was filled slowly with seawater to help rotate the vessel upright. The second sponson was added after the parbuckling was complete.
Without this extra floatation the ship would need to have a huge volume of polluted water pumped out and into holding vessels which would take it to remediation plants. Residents of Giglio have complained about the sight of the ship but few have spoken about the strong odors that permeate the town.
The wreck is scheduled to be removed in the summer of 2014 but no location for salvage has been determined. Total costs are expected to be around 760 million USD and the project still has challenges ahead.