Costa Concordia: Two-years later, salvage effort continues

Monday marks two years since a luxury cruise liner crashed into rocks off the Italian Island of Giglio. Thirty-two people were killed aboard the Costa Concordia, including two Americans, and the country is still dealing with the physical and legal aftermath of the disaster.

In the two years since the Costa Concordia ran aground, it's racked up a salvage bill that already tops $800 million. What was once 115,000 tons of floating luxury now looks more like a wrecked tenement that has been flooded, with seven of the ship's 11 decks underwater.

The hull of the 1,000-foot-long Concordia sat 26-feet deep in the water when it was the jewel of its cruise line's fleet. When it finally leaves this port of call, around 61 feet of the hull will still be submerged.

The hulk now rests on a kind of underwater table. Beginning sometime in April, 15 massive flotation tanks will be attached to each side of the ship. Once they're in place, it will take seven to 10 days to refloat the vessel for one last cruise, to an as-yet-undecided location to be turned into scrap.


The timetable is very much weather-dependent as winter storms can turn calm seas into crashing waves within a few hours.

The wreck is still under judicial custody as a crime scene, and Italian coast guard patrol boats make sure no one except authorized workers approaches, since there is still a lot on the ship that's worth stealing.

So far safes have been recovered from some 700 cabins, but many more are still inaccessible. More than 4,000 passengers and crew had to abandon the Costa Concordia with little more than the clothes on their back.

The chaotic evacuation happened late and was poorly executed. The captain was among the first off claiming he fell into a lifeboat. A coast guard officer on shore took command and with a curse that made him an Italian folk hero, he ordered the captain to get back aboard the stricken vessel.

He did not obey, and 32 people died. Captain Francesco Schettino is now on trial for alleged manslaughter, causing the shipwreck and abandoning his passengers.

The wreck became a tourist attraction Giglio could have done without. The islanders take great pride in being renowned for their friendliness and in their home's status as a marine reserve.

Local resident Italo Arienti was among those who rescued passengers from the Costa Concordia two years-ago.

"After all this time the people of Giglio can't wait for it to go away," said Arienti. “We keep worrying about an environmental disaster."

Yet, amazingly, that didn't happen. Anti-pollution barriers and a quick removal of the ship's bunker oil have ensured that virtually no pollution escaped into the sea or lapped onto the island's shore. It will be many more months before the Italian courts decide who was ultimately responsible for the disaster that began when the ship sailed too close to shore in a stunt that was billed as "a salute" to the island.

The wreck is expected to be re-floated and towed away before the summer tourism season that is the lifeblood of this otherwise pristine island.

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