Concern grows over Italy cruise ship salvage

As the trial against the captain of Italy's Costa Concordia gets under way on Wednesday, the mayor of the island where the ship lies said Monday he was increasingly concerned about its salvage.

Concern grows over Italy cruise ship salvage
The Costa Concordia cruise ship crashed into Giglio island in January 2012. Photo: AFP

An unprecedented operation is under way to refloat the 290-metre liner, which crashed at high speed into Giglio island in a traumatic nighttime accident in January 2012 that left 32 people dead.

But while islanders want the beached ship removed as quickly as possible, the head of Italy's civil protection agency Franco Gabrielli has voiced serious concerns over lingering uncertainties surrounding the ambitious procedure to right it.

Salvage workers hope the vessel will be rolled upright in September, weather and sea conditions permitting – but there are fears that the ghostly wreck could break open during the manoeuvre, spilling a potentially polluting cargo of gallons of cleaning products, rotting food and sewage.

"Even though engineers have performed simulations and come up with hypotheses, we still today do not know how far the rocks have penetrated into the side of the ship, what type of lacerations they caused and what condition the structure is actually in," Gabrielli said.

Without the necessary assurances over the safety of the operation, "the ship will remain in the condition it is in until next year, when good weather conditions will make it possible to ensure it is completely safe," he added.

Italy's environment ministry has launched an inquiry into possible pollution caused by the crash, and on Tuesday divers will take samples of the water underneath the vessel.

The ship's captain, Francesco Schettino, will be in court on Wednesday for the second hearing in a trial against him for multiple manslaughter and abandoning the ship before all of the passengers had been evacuated, after performing a "salute" manoeuvre off the island. He is also charged with causing environmental damage.

Giglio's mayor Sergio Ortelli told AFP the risk of pollution "is non-existent", but the hollowed-out beast instead threatens to damage the island's tourist industry "for a third season" if the salvage operation drags into next summer.

Amid fears of further delays in the removal, he said he was frustrated by receiving verbal promises about the salvage operation's progress and called for ship owner Costa Crociere to commit to a written timetable.

In 2012, visitor numbers to Giglio were down between 28 and 30 percent – though the economic crisis may also be to blame, he said.

The salvage operation, run by Miami-based salvage giant Titan and its Italian partner Micoperi, has had to adapt to difficult conditions encountered while working to stabilize the hulk.

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Costa Concordia wreck to be raised in September

The wreck of the Costa Concordia, the cruise ship which crashed into the Tuscan island of Giglio in January 2012 killing 32, will finally be raised up next month, the salvage coordinator said on Friday.

Costa Concordia wreck to be raised in September
32 people died in the Costa Concordia disaster in January 2012. Photo: AFP

The wreck of the cruise liner currently lies keeled over off the Tuscan island of Giglio over a year after it crashed with 4,229 people from 70 countries on board, claiming 32 lives.

"If things go as we are expecting. I think September will be the month of the rotation," prefect Franco Gabrielli told Italian news channel SkyTG24, declining to give a precise date.

The raising of the Concordia had been programmed for September 2012 but was then delayed to May 2013 and then put off again because of technical difficulties.

The news comes on the day the Italian environmental organization Legambiente staged a protest in front of the wreck. Holding 12-metre-long banners reading "581 days and the Concordia is still here", protesters called for the removal of the wreck which the group described as an environmental and economic disaster.   

"The inhabitants and everyone who loves the island of Giglio are waiting for concrete acts to stop this tragedy from also becoming an environmental and economic disaster," Legambiente's National President Vittorio Cogliati Dezza told the television channel TG1. 

The planned salvage operation will be the biggest ever attempted for a passenger ship.

The plan is initially to rotate the 114,500-ton vessel, then attach flotation tanks to the side that is currently under water like the ones already welded to its exposed side.

The tanks will then be emptied of water to act as flotation devices before the ship is towed away to be scrapped in a port that is yet to be determined.

Salvage operators say the rotation has to occur in September at the latest because otherwise there would be a risk of bad weather later in the year.

Giglio mayor Sergio Ortelli said the operation was in its "final phase", adding that he was confident the operation the island return to "calm and normality".

Ortelli said tourist numbers on the island were down 15 percent this season compared to before the crash but said this was an improvement from last summer when arrivals were down 30 percent.