22 May 2012

Costa Concordia - ready to float the boat:

Salvage experts plan to use water-filled cisterns to weigh down the above-sea side of the Costa Concordia that capsized off the Italian coast. It is part of an effort to turn the massive vessel upright so it can towed for demolition early next year. One official called the operation's magnitude "unprecedented".

The Costa Concordia, which was carrying 4200 people, struck a jagged reef the night of January 13 when it veered too close to the coast of tiny Giglio island. Gashed on one side, the ship began listing badly and came to rest on its side on the rocky seabed off the Tuscan shore. The accident killed 32 people.

Titan Salvage, a company based in Pompano Beach, Florida, won the bid to remove the Concordia's wreckage, which now lies in pristine waters.

Captain Richard Habib, Titan Salvage's managing director, said the goal is to "use brains, [and] not as much brawn" to remove the Concordia without having it slip into much deeper water. He said the biggest challenge in the operation is to roll the vessel upright on a platform and to safely float it away to a port yet to be selected by Italian officials.

"The magnitude of the job is something unprecedented," Habib said.

The plan involves constructing an underwater platform and attaching empty cisterns to the above-water side of the ship. Then the cisterns will be filled with water, and two cranes attached to the platform will pull the ship upright. Once upright, the ship will have cisterns attached to the other side. Then all the cisterns will be emptied of water before being filled with air to help the ship rise higher in the water and free itself of the seabed. Once it is properly afloat, the ship can be towed to a port for demolition.

Habib said the ship would weigh 45,000 tonnes without the filled cisterns. The goal is to have it upright by the start of winter and to start towing it early next year, he said.

Experts at the news conference said some holes in the ship will have to be repaired before towing to make sure the vessel can float. The gash caused by the collision with the reef is dozens of metres long, but several holes were also blasted into the wreckage so divers could swim in to search for bodies.

While nothing similar on such a scale has been tried before, Habib said, "we think our plan is going to work".

He declined to say if there was a "Plan B" if the strategy fails. The Italian captain of the Concordia is under house arrest while prosecutors investigate him for possible manslaughter and abandoning ship while the evacuation was still underway.

Prosecutors contend that the captain steered the ship dangerously close to the island in a publicity stunt, although the captain insists the reef didn't appear on navigational charts.

Source: NZ Herald. 20 May 2012

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