On January 13th, just two hours after luxury cruise liner Costa Concordia left the Italian port of Civitavecchia,for Savona, the final destination of its seven-day journey, it struck a rock in the Tyrrhenian Sea off the shore of the Tuscan Archipelago. The impact created a 160-foot long gash in her hull, causing water to gush in at an alarming speed.
To make lifeboat evacuation easier, the captain tried to steer the ship closer towards shallow waters near the Island of Giglio. However, he soon realized that it was a futile attempt and sounded the dreaded seven short whistles - The universal signal, to abandon ship.
However, the cruise liner collected water at such a rapid pace that within 2 hours it had tilted 20° to the side, making it impossible for the last fifty passengers and crew to deploy lifeboats. Instead, they had to be airlifted by rescue helicopters. Within nine hours, the ship had completely collapsed on its side making rescue efforts for any passengers trapped inside, extremely difficult.
Almost two weeks following the incident, 17 passengers have been confirmed dead, while another 16 are still missing. On the positive side, 3206 passengers and 962 crew members were successfully rescued. While officials are now investigating how this 'Titanic' - like disaster could have happened in the 21st Century and also, why the Captain abandoned the ship before all the passengers were safe, they have a more pressing concern to tend to - Ensure that the marine preserve the cruise liner is currently submerged in, does not become an environmental disaster.
Their first order of business therefore, is to remove the 500,000 gallons of diesel the ship is carrying, before it leaks into this pristine region. They are currently trying to install valves into the six fuel tanks that contain the majority of the fuel. Then, they will slowly draw out the toxic diesel, a process that could take between 3-4 weeks.
Meanwhile, engineers will begin an inspection of the $450 mm USD ship to see the extent of the structural damage. Also inspecting the giant ship, will be salvage companies, who will decide whether it should be repaired or broken apart for its parts and materials.
However, even for the most experienced salvage companies, this is going to be a challenge - That's because in the past they have dealt with smaller container ships or oil tankers, never a 951-foot-long, 17-deck cruise ship with 1,500 cabins. Hopefully, they will be able to figure it all out in the coming months and most importantly do it, without harming the marine life that lies underneath.
Ironically, the recent incident occurred just three months before the 100-year anniversary of the eerily similar April 15th, 1912, Titanic disaster. What a strange coincidence!
Resources: stuff.co.nz, wikipedia.org, usatoday.com,latimes.com, cruisecritic.com