Grosseto

Concordia cruise ship could be righted in September

Towed away 'as soon as November'

Concordia cruise ship could be righted in September

(By Christopher Livesay) Grosseto, June 25 - The half-sunk Costa Concordia cruise ship that has been stranded off the coast of Tuscany since striking a rock formation at the start of 2012 could be righted from its current position this September, Italy's civil protection agency said Tuesday. "We will have a clearer idea of the timing after checks on the submerged section and then know if the boat can leave the (waters around) the island in November or March," avoiding winter, Civil Protection Department head Franco Gabrielli said on a visit to the Island of Giglio. It was here that the cruise ship hit a rock formation in January 2012 - forebodingly on Friday the 13th - claiming 32 lives, after an allegedly rash manoeuvre by Captain Francesco Schettino to "salute" local people. It has since been semi-submerged on its side, making salvage operations difficult. "The ship's removal is a priority. First its removal, then its destination. My mandate is to remove this ship from Giglio," Gabrielli said. US-based Titan Salvage and the Italian firm Micoperi are the two firms preparing to remove the 60,000-ton, water-logged ship, the biggest salvage operation in history, and, at an estimated cost of 400 million euros, also the most expensive. The plan is to effectively weld a new ship onto the wreckage. Crews must first attach 30 giant steel pontoons to its sides, two of which are already in place, Titan-Micoperi announced Tuesday. Then they will roll the ship in one piece onto a 1,000-ton underwater platform and float it away to be cut up for scrap at a dry dock in Sicily, which is expected to take up to two years. No one is certain the unprecedented plan will work given the 15-story, 4,000-passenger vessel's massive size - twice that of the Titanic. Salvage crews are also in a fight against time as the ship becomes more and more unstable every day that passes. They must also be extra careful not to cause added damage to the environment and the ancient archeological sites beneath and around the shipwreck. For a year and a half it has been settled inside a nationally protected coral reef and marine park, home to 700 animal and botanical species such as exotic fish, dolphins and huge rare mussels. The wrecked ship is also resting on top of two ruins from 200 BC, and its impact reportedly already destroyed a third site that dates back to 600 BC. Prosecutors are surveying the damage which may be tacked on to manslaughter and dereliction-of-duty charges already facing Schettino, whose trial begins July 9. Prosecutors will reportedly seek a sentence of up to 20 years in prison. The mayor of Giglio, Sergio Ortelli, said he was happy with the progress salvage workers were making. "Every indicator suggests the ship will be removed as soon as possible," he said. "This is especially necessary, on the one hand because of how much tourism has suffered, and on the other because citizens have the right to have their island back".

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