The salvage of Costa Concordia has been delayed by at least two months, according to its operator, Costa Crociere.
The new timetable means that the 114,147-gross-ton ship will be refloated in March or April 2013, not January, as was originally announced by the company.
On Jan. 13, 2012, the ship — carrying 4,229 passengers and crew — tore a hole in its hull when its captain took the huge luxury liner to within 500 feet of the Italian island of Giglio. Thirty people died as a result of the disaster. The ship, listing sharply to starboard, came to rest on the bottom near the island, with its upper deck and much of its port side above the surface.
In announcing the delay, Costa Crociere cited environmental concerns and technical complexities.
Courtesy Costa Crociere
Lowering one of the four anchor blocks that are being installed to secure the ship.
“The development of the unprecedented project from the conceptual level to execution requires constant updating, based on testing of various technologies and operational solutions to ensure the effectiveness of the plan and to prevent impacts on the environment,” the company said in a release.
The salvage is a joint operation between Titan Salvage, owned by Crowley Maritime Corp., and the Italian marine contractor Micoperi. It is the largest ship removal, by weight, in history.
The Italian government has stipulated that Costa Concordia be removed in one piece. The plan is to use caissons and pulling machines to pull the wrecked vessel onto a specially constructed platform underneath the ship. Water is to be drained from the caissons, which will be filled with air to refloat the vessel, which will then be towed away.
Pierdonato Vercellone, Costa Crociere’s communications manager for the Concordia salvage project, said that drilling techniques have been changed based on map data of the seabed in order to minimize environmental impact. Also, construction of the underwater platform had to be updated after geological and sea life analysis.
By the end of September, stabilization of the wreck will be finished, with four underwater anchor blocks securing the wreck, according to Vercellone. In addition, eight strandjacks, hydraulic equipment used for pulling cables, will be installed on the port side of the hull. “We strongly believe this system will be able to perfectly secure the wreck,” he said.
The subsea platform will be built by the end of January. Caissons will be attached to the ship’s port side by the end of January, as well. Parbuckling of the wreck, to bring the ship upright, is planned for spring 2013. Next, caissons will be attached to the ship’s starboard side and will be filled with air, to refloat the wreck. The wreck will be towed to an Italian port in late spring 2013. Salvage work will continue throughout the winter, according to Vercellone.
Environmental groups, including Legambiente and Greenpeace Italy, criticized the company for lack of details and for secrecy surrounding the salvage. They maintain they have been excluded from the process.
Giglio Island is part of the Tuscan Archipelago National Park.
The salvage is too important to be left to the sole control of Titan/Micoperi, said Umberto Mazzantini, Legambiente’s national coordinator for Italy’s outlying islands.
There is a monitoring group for the salvage, L’Osservatorio, which includes representatives of the town of Giglio Island, the Tuscany Region, the national Department of Civil Protection, the national Department for the Environment, Land and Sea, the Ministry of the Interior and the Ministry of Health. Since environmental groups have been excluded from this body, Legambiente is asking for third-party experts to monitor every step of the salvage. Mazzantini said his group’s concerns include:
• Recurring turbidity around the wreck site that the group says is damaging marine life.
• Sea grass on the ocean bottom, called Neptune grass (Posidonia oceanica), that the group believes has been severely damaged;
• A large clam, the noble pen shell (Pinna nobilis), already endangered, will be removed to build the platform. The group fears it will be difficult to reintroduce these clams following the salvage.
• Harmful substances that could come out of the refloated wreck.
• The impact of the salvage on whales and rare seals.
Costa Crociere said that environmental groups have been kept in the loop. Vercellone said that L’Osservatorio held a meeting on Sept. 5 to update environmental groups on the salvage, including Legambiente and Greenpeace.
Vercellone said that the Regional Agency for Environmental Protection of Tuscany (ARPAT) is publishing a weekly public report about the state of the ecosystem to keep all parties informed. In particular, the group is monitoring whether any fuel or other pollutants are leaking from the wreck.
The team of environmental researchers are mostly from the marine ecology department of Sapienza University of Rome, Vercellone said. The subjects of the environmental monitoring and studies include: the noble pen shell; Neptune grass; the sea bottom; fish, marine mammal and plankton populations; coral habitat; seaweed in the intertidal zone; currents and suspended sediments; background sound levels and non-native species.
Reports by ARPAT and researchers from Sapienza University “have never pointed out any specific risk for the environment,” Vercellone said. And almost 200 noble pen shell clams have been transferred from below the wreck to a safer area and about 75 percent are prospering a few weeks after the transplant.
Mazzantini said Costa Crociere appears to favor towing the ship to either Genoa, where its company headquarters are located, or Palermo. Environmental groups fear that the state of the ship’s hull is so weak that it might sink during this tow.
Costa Crociere said no decision has been made about what port the ship will be towed to. “We believe there will not be any risk of sinking while the wreck will be towed,” Vercellone said.