A team of 500 engineers and divers from 21 countries is in the final preparation stages of a nail-biting marine salvage operation of unprecedented scale and difficulty.
On Sunday, if the authorities in Giglia, Italy are satisfied that weather conditions are safe, head of operations, Franco Gabrielli will order US salvage company, Titan, and Italian marine contractor, Micoperi, to start parbuckling (uprighting) the stricken Costa Concordia passenger ship at 6am local time (4am BST).
The 114,000-tonne vessel ran onto rocks off Giglia in January 2012, killing 30 with two missing, presumed dead. It has since lain on its side, perched treacherously on a precipitous underwater slope between two spurs of granite rock.
The delicate process is expected to take between eight to 12 hours, and this will be the one and only chance to get the righting right. If the ship buckles, all is lost, including the two bodies still believed to be inside it.
Computer-operated strand jacks will be used to tighten the cables and slowly return the Concordia to a vertical position, resting on a huge underwater platform. The plan is then to tow the vessel from protected Tuscan waters intact. It cannot be broken up in-situ because of the risk of environmental damage to the richly biodiverse waters in which it lies.
Nick Sloane, Titan’s senior salvage master told The Guardian that if given the go-ahead, pre-tensioning the ship would start on Sunday night to help prepare it for the lift. He added that some weaker parts of the ship would fracture, but that was expected and not necessarily a problem and that if you “put it back again then that’s it, you’ve lost the chance. You only have one chance from the start.”
The salvage operation has so far managed to secure the ship using giant cement sacks and custom-made metal platforms. Sloane also told The Guardian that “such is the incline that anyone who goes on board has had to take a climbing course beforehand”. The drilling of holes into the granite rocks was another major challenge.
The total cost of the salvaging is tipped at 600 million Euros (£505 million), the most expensive ever recorded. Fingers crossed for everyone involved.