A complex system of pulleys and counterweights yesterday began lifting the Costa Concordia cruise ship from its side on a Tuscan reef where it capsized last year, an anxiously awaited operation that has never been attempted before on such a huge liner.
The crippled vessel would not budge for about three hours after the operations began, engineer Sergio Girotto told reporters.
However, after 6,000 tonnes of force were applied, “we saw the detachment” of the ship from the reef using undersea cameras, he said.
He said the cameras did not immediately reveal any sign of two bodies that were never recovered from among the 32 people who died during the disaster.
The operation was expected to take about 10 to 12 hours, with the initial hours winching the ship off the reef imperceptible to the unaided eye.
The operation began three hours later than planned after an early morning storm pushed back the scheduled positioning of a floating command room center close to the wreckage. Once it was in place, engineers using remote controls began guiding a synchronized leverage system of pulleys, counterweights and huge chains looped under the Concordia’s carcass to delicately nudge the ship free from its rocky seabed perch just outside Giglio Island’s harbor.
The goal is to raise it from its side by 65o to vertical, as a ship would normally be, for eventual towing.
The operation, known in nautical parlance as parbuckling, is a proven method to raise capsized vessels.
The USS Oklahoma was parbuckled by the US military in 1943 after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. However, the 300m, 115,000-tonne Concordia has been described as the largest cruise ship ever to capsize and subsequently require the complex rotation.
The Concordia crashed into a reef on a winter’s night on Jan. 13 last year, after the captain steered the luxury liner too close to the rocky coastline of Giglio, part of a chain of islands in pristine waters.
Despite the violent capsizing, no major pollution had been detected in the waters near the ship. Fuel was siphoned out early in the salvage operation, but food and human waste are still trapped inside.
Should the Concordia break apart during the rotation, or spew out toxic materials as it is raised, absorbent barriers were set in place to catch any leaks.
However, engineers have dismissed as “remote” the possibility that the Concordia might break apart and no longer be sound enough to be towed to the mainland to be turned into scrap.