The wreck of the Costa Concordia cruise ship will be removed in June from its watery graveyard off Tuscany and taken to a port to be dismantled, the final phase of an unprecedented 600 million-euro ($817 million US) salvage effort.
At a news conference Friday, Italy's civil protection chief and representatives of the cruise operator, Costa Crociere SpA, gave the timetable and the rundown of what was needed for the ship to be refloated. They spoke just days before the second anniversary of the ship's Jan. 13, 2012, grounding that killed 32 people.
A handful of Italian ports — including Piombino, Genoa, Palermo and Civitavecchia — are bidding to take in the wreck and dismantle it for scrap. Ports in France, Turkey, Britain and even China are also bidding for the job.
Italy's environment minister, Andrea Orlando, and the head of Costa Crociere, Michael Thamm, said the preference was to keep the project in Italy, both to limit potential environmental damage while the hobbled ship is in transit and to keep any economic benefits at home.
A decision on the winning bid is expected in March, they said.
Ship upright since September
The Concordia slammed into a reef off the island of Giglio when its captain took it off course in an apparent stunt to bring it closer to the island. With a 70-metre gash in its hull, the ship listed for an hour and finally capsized off Giglio's port.
Capt. Francesco Schettino is currently on trial for alleged manslaughter, causing a shipwreck and abandoning the ship before all the passengers had been brought to safety. He says he is innocent and that he saved lives with the ship's final manoeuvres.
In a remarkable 19-hour engineering feat, salvage operators in September righted the Concordia from its side and brought it to rest upright on a false seabed. Since then, crews have stabilized the giant ship and prepared its heavily damaged starboard side, which had borne the weight of the ship against underwater rocks, to be outfitted with giant tanks that will help float it.
The 15 tanks, which will mirror 15 other tanks on the port side, will likely be affixed in April amid calmer seas and better weather, said Franco Porcellacchia, the project manager for Costa Crociere, a unit of Miami-based Carnival Corp., the world's largest cruise line operator.
The tanks will be filled with water and then gradually emptied to provide the buoyancy needed to float the ship off the seabed.
That timetable should allow the wreck to be towed away sometime in June, said Franco Gabrielli, Italy's civil protection chief who has been overseeing the salvage operation.
That would come before another summer tourist season gets into full swing on Giglio, a pristine island in a marine sanctuary that has had the shipwreck on its horizon for two years.
Winning port needs deep waters
Gabrielli said it was possible the damaged cruise ship might have to spend time in a temporary port before heading to its final destination for dismantling, but the hope was to move it all at once.
Not every port can accommodate such a huge wreck. The winning port must not only have the facilities to dismantle and recycle the ship; it must also have an unusually deep harbour: the 300-metre-long Concordia normally sailed with eight metres of hull under water. But because of the damage when it ran aground, the Concordia will limp into its final port of call with 18.5 metres of hull submerged.
Costa Crociere estimates the salvage effort has pumped an estimated 261 million euros ($355 million US) into the Italian economy.