For Costa Concordia, a final turn in spotlight as removal begins

By Tom Stieghorst
Removal of the Costa Concordia from its perch off Italy's Giglio Island is scheduled to start July 14, giving the ship a last moment in the global media spotlight before it is towed away to be dismantled for scrap.

Thirty steel floats, welded in place on the sides of the ship, will be filled with air to make the Concordia as buoyant as possible as tugs pull the ship north to Genoa.

Moving the ship to land should further help put the Concordia incident in the rearview mirror for the traveling public.

In a statement issued July 3, Costa Cruises said it expected the attempt to relocate the Concordia would begin in about 10 days. The July 14 date was posted last week, subject to weather conditions.

Engineers say it could take up to two years to demolish the ship at the San Giorgio del Porto shipyard, which won a coveted contract to do the salvage work.

Italian authorities determined that removing the ship to Genoa, about 190 miles away, was the "only valid solution in Italy," according to a June statement from Costa.

No closer port could immediately accommodate the safety and environmental concerns that surround both the transport of the wreck and the extensive demolition and recycling activities required, the Costa statement said.

When the refloating operation begins, the 30 steel floats, known as sponsons, will gradually be emptied of ballast water by means of a pneumatic system.

The ship has been resting on an artificial shelf created to cradle the vessel since last September, when it was pulled upright from where it had been lying on the seabed.

Initially, the technicians plan to refloat the ship only a few meters to test its integrity and to wrap chains around the hull that will further strengthen it for transport.

According to the website maintained jointly by Costa and the salvage companies working on the Concordia, the ship will be refloated deck by deck so that any contents that leak out can be recovered. To further control any spillage, the ship will be wrapped in netting before it is moved.

The ship's funnel was removed in December to speed work inside the vessel. When it is deemed safe to be moved, the Concordia will be towed at an average speed of about 2 mph, taking an estimated four days to complete the trip to Genoa.

Planners waited to move the ship until now because the best sea and weather conditions statistically occur in midsummer.

The Concordia ran aground and partly sank in January 2012, an accident that took 32 lives and raised doubts about cruising among the general public. But most cruise sellers say that the pall created by the disaster has dissipated.

Rosella Carrara, a spokeswoman for the group that is refloating the Concordia, said an exact count of the accredited media for the event was still being finalized. But coverage of Concordia events has been big news in Italy and the U.K. in particular as well as in the U.S.

A memo restricting the number and location of live TV trucks on Giglio Island was circulated to the media on July 9.
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