For twenty months, the once luxurious Costa Concordia cruise ship has been lying in saltwater, waiting for divers to arrive and refloat the massive structure. The Costa Concordia salvage effort is on an unprecedented scale, and righting the banked ship without damaging environmental consequences was a huge task. On September 17, 2013 at 4 a.m. local time, the ship was declared completely upright. It’s the latest news in a saga of a needless crash that killed 32 people and showed the world a captain who abandoned ship to save himself rather than staying on board to ensure the safety of his passengers and crew.
On January 13, 2012, Captain Francesco Shettino sailed the Costa Concordia close to the Tuscan island of Giglio off the coast of Italy, reportedly either to allow the head waiter’s family, who lived on the island, to see the ship or because he was saluting a former ship captain. Regardless of the reason, Shettino sailed too close, slammed against the rocks, and partially sank the ship. Claiming that he tripped and fell into a life boat, the captain abandoned ship while hundreds of people were still on board – despite a Coast Guard captain reprimanding him via radio and telling him to get back on the ship.
Passenger Benji Smith, author of the memoir Abandoned Ship: An Intimate Account of the Costa Concordia Shipwreck, described the events of the evening to the Huffington Post in his January 15, 2013 article “Making meaning: The aftermath of the Costa Concordia shipwreck.”
“At about 9:45 that night,” Smith recounted, “as we relaxed in our cabin, we heard a noise. A slow soft scratching sound came from somewhere behind us, like a pencil tip drifting across a page. We didn’t know it at the time, but this was the sound of a giant rock tearing through the steel skin of the ship and leaving a hundred-foot-long gash in the hull.”
Smith and his wife, on their honeymoon, got aboard a lifeboat that malfunctioned; for the next five hours, they and other passengers tried to find a way to survive on the sinking ship as it collapsed on its side. Smith described: “Amid the chaos and the screams, we scavenged a rope and rappelled down the outer hull of the ship toward the water-line. We would stay there for the next three hours, clinging to the rope and waving at passing helicopters until a lifeboat finally returned for us.” Worse, when they finally reached shore, the American Embassy did little to nothing to help the American citizens who had been on board. The wreck was a disaster in more ways than one.
Raising the wreck
Almost two years later, the 952-foot wreck was dragged erect with cords – a technique called parbuckling – to rest on an underwater platform. After getting the ship upright, divers will continue salvage efforts by attaching buoyancy devices to tow the ruined ship away to the mainland. Parts of the ship, currently considered a crime scene, are hoped to be used in the court trial against Shettino, who was charged with multiple counts of manslaughter. Eventually, the Costa Cruises company hopes to be able to retrieve the possessions left onboard by the passengers, and the divers hope to find the bodies of the two victims who were never located after the crash.
The operation of lifting the ship was a dangerous one. In a September 15, 2013 article by Michael Day in London’s Independent on Sunday, “Italy prepares to salvage a disaster,” Costa Cruises’ director of technical operations Franco Porcellacchia explained, “It’s an extraordinary operation, not because parbuckling has never been done before, but because it’s never done with such a big ship.”
The steps to the salvage process were reported by Nick Thompson and Nural Choudhury of CNN.com in the September 17, 2013 article “Costa Concordia: How ill-fated cruise liner was raised from Italian seabed.”
- First, the salvage team had to anchor the hull to keep the ship from sliding and sinking completely.
- Six underwater platforms were built for the ship to rest on, and bags filled with cement were maneuvered into the space between the granite on which the ship was resting.
- Eleven caissons – empty, metal containers – were welded to the above-water side of the boat, then attached with chains to the underwater platforms.
- The ship was parbuckled. Hauling the boat upright took 19 hours – twice as long as originally expected.
The ship still needs to be refloated and made safe for police to enter, and it will take still longer for the fish and wildlife to recover. Though the ship’s freezers are still locked, refrigerators have been providing local fish with high-class cuisine, and they’ve become larger and harder to catch. Like the passengers and crew who survived the disaster, it may be a long time before the environment fully recovers.
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