Costa Concordia in Italy freed from rocks

Costa Concordia, 16 September 2013 The ship is being pulled upright using cables and giant tanks filled with water

Engineering officials in Italy say they have succeeded in lifting the cruise ship Costa Concordia free of rocks, 20 months after it ran aground.

Efforts to right the ship, one of the largest and most daunting salvage operations ever undertaken, are continuing through the night.

The vessel has been detached from rocks and moved on to a platform constructed on the sea bed, officials said.

Thirty-two people died when the ship ran aground off the Tuscan coast.

The bodies of two of those killed in the January 2012 disaster, by the island of Giglio, have never been found. There are hopes that they may be located during the operation, although officials said on Monday there was no sign of them so far.

At the scene

Essentially this is simple physics. It's a little like a challenge you might set a classroom of school children. There's a capsized ship on the rocks. You can't cut it up as you might harm the waters it is lying in. How do you raise it?

As one engineer put it to me - stick some boxes on the side; rotate the vessel until the boxes are in the water; put some more on the other side and float the whole thing. So, simple physics.

But that makes this no less of an agonising 24 hours for the salvage team. You could see that in the way they gave one of their later updates on the operation. They had to shut the whole rotation down for an hour after a problem with the cables.

Beforehand they had said they would not do that, for any reason. With an operation like this, there will be unforeseen problems, and delays. And they're giving no time frame for this to be finished.

Engineers have never tried to lift such a huge ship - over 951 feet long (290m) - so close to land.

By Monday evening, the vessel had rotated by 20-21 degrees, the officials said.

This means that there is another 44-45 degrees to go before it is upright. However, the officials hope that once it has risen by 24 degrees, the ship will begin righting itself thanks to gravity and to metal boxes attached to the side and filled with water.

The start of this huge operation was potentially the most problematic phase, and the stage that worried the engineers the most, says the BBC's Alan Johnston at the scene.

But now the ship has been broken away from the reef on which she has been lying, the hope is that it will now be possible to rotate the wreck more easily, he adds.

The Italian Civil Protection Authority said the sea and weather conditions had mostly been right for the attempt, but the operation had to be delayed by three hours because of an overnight storm.

Huge challenge

The storm delayed the positioning of a barge carrying a remote control room close to the shipwreck, from where engineers were using pulleys and counterweights to move the Concordia from the steep underwater incline it is resting on.

Sergio Girotto, an engineer working on the project, told reporters on Monday the operation was going smoothly.

Graphic showing how the salvage operation will work

"Everything is going according to plan, we are following the plan to sequence. There is no problem whatsoever."

The ship could be seen emerging from the water as operators worked to hoist it upright.

Footage from the scene of the salvage operation clearly shows the watermark on the part of the ship that has been submerged for the past 20 months.

Map showing the route of the Costa Concordia on a previous trip and on the day of the collision.

Our correspondent says that everything about the project is on a colossal scale.

Salvage workers have attached giant metal chains and cables to the 114,000-gross tonnage ship, which is roughly the length of three football fields.

Members of the US salvage company Titan and Italian firm Micoperi work at the wreck of Italy's Costa Concordia cruise ship near the harbour of Giglio Porto The salvage team gathers around the wreckage to begin the operation.
Cables used for the parbuckling of Costa Concordia are seen during the preparation of the operation outside Giglio harbour Giant metal chains and cables have been attached to the Concordia to help raise it.
A dark line, marking a previously submerged part, shows the movement of the Costa Concordia ship on 16 September 2013. A dark line marking a previously submerged part of the ship gives evidence of its movement.
Members of the US salvage company Titan and Italian firm Micoperi work at the wreck of Italy's Costa Concordia cruise ship near the harbour of Giglio Porto on 16 September Teams working overnight were slightly delayed by a storm, but the sea and weather conditions were considered right for the operation.
Workers set anti-pollution floating barriers around the wreck of Italy's Costa Concordia cruise ship Anti-pollution floating barriers are placed around the wreck of the Concordia.
A general view shows houses in Giglio Porto as the Costa Concordia cruise ship wreck begins to emerge from water on 16 September 2013. The operation is one of the largest and most daunting salvage operations ever undertaken.

More than 50 enormous chains and winches are being used to break the ship - twice as heavy as the Titanic - away from the reef on which it has been lying and roll her up onto her keel.

Engineers will try to roll the ship up using the cables and the weight of water contained in huge metal boxes welded to the ship's sides - a process called parbuckling.

Concordia's dead and missing

  • Dead: 12 Germans; six Italians (including Dayana Arlotti, 5, and father William Arlotti); six French people; two Peruvians; two Americans (Barbara and Gerald Heil, passengers); one Hungarian (Sandor Feher, crew); one Spaniard (Guillermo Gual, passenger)
  • Missing: one Italian (Maria Grazia Trecarichi, passenger); one Indian (Russel Rebello, crew)

This procedure must be carried out very slowly to prevent further damage to the hull, which has spent more than 18 months partially submerged in 15 metres (50ft) of water and fully exposed to the elements.

Only after the ship is back up on her keel will it be possible to inspect it fully and begin to plan the next stage - the effort to repair and re-float it and eventually tow it away to be destroyed.

The head of the operation, Nick Sloane, told the AFP news agency that it was now or never for the Costa Concordia, because the hull was gradually weakening and might not survive another winter.

Start Quote

Islanders can't wait to see the back of it”

End Quote Sergio Ortelli Giglio mayor

If the operation goes wrong, environmentalists warn that toxic substances could leak out into the sea.

There are also concerns that filthy water trapped in the rotting, rusting wreck will pour out as the ship rises.

But booms and nets have been put in place to try to combat any pollution threat in what is a marine national park.

Five people have been convicted of manslaughter over the disaster, and the captain, Francesco Schettino, is currently on trial accused of manslaughter and abandoning ship.

Giglio mayor Sergio Ortelli said that the removal of the Costa Concordia would bring an end to "a huge problem that we have in our port and that we want to solve as soon as we can".

"Islanders can't wait to see the back of it," he said.

Alan Johnston gives a 360 degree tour of the salvage site

On Sunday, prayers for the operation were said during Sunday Mass on the island.

The small island's economy depends hugely on tourism and the presence of the wreck has discouraged visitors.

The salvage project has so far cost more than 600m euros ($800m; £500m) and is expected to cost much more before the operation is complete.

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