GIGLIO ISLAND, Italy—Engineers declared success Tuesday as the crippled Costa Concordia cruise ship was pulled completely upright during an unprecedented, 19-hour operation to wrench it from its side where it capsized last year off Tuscany.
The remarkable maritime salvage project now allows for a renewed search for the two bodies that were never recovered from the 32 people killed in the shipwreck, and for the ship to eventually be towed away.
The Concordia’s submerged side suffered significant damage during the 20 months it bore the weight of the massive ship on the jagged reef, and the daylong operation to right it stressed that flank as well. Exterior balconies were mangled and entire sections looked warped, though officials said the damage probably looked worse than it really was.
The damage must be repaired to stabilize the ship so it can withstand the coming winter, when seas and winds will whip the luxury liner, which is to be towed and turned into scrap sometime in 2014.
Shortly after 4 a.m., a foghorn boomed off Giglio Island and the head of Italy’s Civil Protection agency, Franco Gabrielli, announced that the ship had reached vertical and that the operation to rotate it—known as parbuckling—was complete. It was a dramatic operation that unfolded in real time as TV cameras recorded the final hours when the rotation accelerated, with gravity pulling the ship into place.
The operation went as expected, with no “environmental spill” detected thus far, according to Franco Porcellacchia, project manager for the Concordia’s owner, Costa Crociere SpA.
For Italy, it was a moment of pride after the horror and embarrassment of the Jan. 13, 2012, collision. The Concordia slammed into a reef off Giglio Island after it came too close to shore in an apparent stunt. Capt. Francesco Schettino earned the public’s contempt when he abandoned the ship before everyone was evacuated, and then refused coast guard orders to go back on board. He is now on trial.
Nick Sloane, the South African chief salvage master, received a hero’s welcome as he came ashore from the barge that had served as the operation’s floating command room, embraced and cheered by residents.
The operation had been expected to take 12 hours, but dragged on after a weather delay and emergency maintenance on the system of cables, pulleys and counterweights that rolled upright the 115,000-ton, half-submerged carcass of steel.
Parbuckling is a standard operation to right capsized ships but never before had it been used on such a huge cruise liner. Here is a time lapse video showing the entire 16-hour proceedure:
Sloane said an initial inspection of the starboard side, covered in brown slime from its 20 months under water, indicated serious damage that must be assessed and fixed in the coming months.
The starboard side of the ship, which was raised 65 degrees in the operation, must be stabilized to enable crews to attach empty tanks on the side that will later be used to help float the vessel away. Currently, the ship is about two-thirds submerged. This Associated Press video uses animation to describe the complicated task.
About an hour before the rotation was complete, observers said the ship seemed to suddenly settle down upon its new perch, with a clear brown-green line of algae drawn across its front delineating the half of the liner that had been underwater.
Costa is a division of Miami-based Carnival Corp., the world’s largest cruise company.