When luxury cruise liner Costa Concordia struck a rock in the Tyrrhenian Sea off the shore of Italy's Tuscan Archipelago and collapsed on its side on January 13th, 2012, salvage engineers knew that they had a nightmare on their hands because a rescue operation of a ship this size, had never been done before. To make matters worse, the liner lay right in the midst of the Pelagos Sanctuary, an environmentally protected area of the Mediterranean, which meant that even a small misstep could turn into a disaster.
What made matters worse was that while the experts contemplated on the best course of action, the wreckage from the 952-foot, 17-story ship became increasingly tricky. As days passed, the ship began to compress, crushing material inside and making the salvage even more difficult and dangerous. Massive amounts of expired food, cutlery, toxins and personal items remained in the ship adding to the already hazardous situation. If that wasn't bad enough, two passengers were still missing and believed to be buried inside the sunken ship.
It was therefore a great relief when the salvaging company finally announced that on September 16th, 2013, they would attempt to lift the 115,000-ton ship, from its side. Called the Parabuckling Project after the technique used, it cost $800 Million USD and involved two steps - First, rotating the behemoth into an upright position and then, hoisting it up using dozens of pulleys. While this is a tried and tested method for salvaging ships, it had never been used before, on a ship this big.
As expected, it was not easy and took an excruciating 19 hours but fortunately, everything went smoothly. At 4 am local time the following morning, workers and onlookers rejoiced as the once grand luxury cruiser was finally placed upon the stable foundation. And while in a sorry state, it had remained intact, which meant that no toxic material had leaked into the pristine waters, where it had lain for almost two years.
With the hardest part over, the rescuers began the search for the remains of the two people that were still missing. In late September, divers scouting the area, located one of them. While DNA tests still have to confirm the identity, officials believe that they are the remains of missing Italian passenger, Maria Grazia Trecarichi. On Tuesday, October 8th, the remains of the last missing passenger, an Indian waiter by the name of Russel Rebello were found on the ship's third deck. These discoveries have finally allowed the families to put a closure to one of the most difficult periods of their lives.
There is however a lot that still remains to be done. All the hazardous material in the ship has to be cleaned out and the company that owns the Costa Concordia also hopes to return whatever personal effects they can, to the people that were aboard the ship. As for the cruise liner? it will remain in its current position whilst experts evaluate the condition and decide on the best way to refloat it to another location, which may take as long as May 2014. After that, maybe the people of the tiny island of Giglio which has been the center of the rescue mission and the millions of people curious to see the wreckage, will be able to resume the life they were accustomed to, before that fateful night in January!
Resources: cnn.com, parabucklingproject.com,dailymail.co.uk