Staff Writer, Reuters and Sapa-AP
SALVORS headed by Capetonian Nick Sloane succeeded in wresting the hull of the shipwrecked Costa Concordia cruise ship from the Italian reef where it has been stuck since it capsized in January 2012, leaving them cautiously optimistic they can rotate the luxury vessel upright and eventually tow it away.
Never before has such an enormous cruise ship been righted, and those who know him say Sloane is the man who can get the job done. Regarding complex salvage operations, he is regarded as “absolutely superb”.
“A job like this, most people would run a mile, but for Nick it’s a challenge, and he thrives on challenge,” said Dave Murray of Smit Amandla Marine, who studied and worked with Sloane on many salvage jobs.
The crippled Concordia did not budge for the first three hours but after 6 000 tons of force was applied using a complex system of pulleys and counterweights, undersea cameras captured the wreck’s detachment from the reef. The 290m 114 500-ton ship has lain on its side ever since foundering on the Italian island of Giglio in a tragedy that claimed 32 lives.
The operation, known as parbuckling, involves engineers using remote controls to guide a synchronised leverage system of pulleys, counterweights and huge chains looped under the Concordia’s carcass to nudge the ship free
and rotate it upright. A series of tanks fixed on the exposed side of the hull will be filled with water to help pull it down.
Once the ship is upright, engineers will attach water tanks filled on the other side to balance the ship, anchor it and stabilise it during the winter months. The flat-keeled hull will rest on a false seabed 30m underwater where it will remain for the northern winter. In spring the tanks will be emptied and the wreck floated off the seabed to be towed.
Sloane, who lives in Somerset West with his wife and three children, has been salvage master on many high-profile operations around the globe, including ships on fire, leaking oil tankers and wrecked cargo ships. He has installed pipelines and recovered oil rigs.
Sloane, who worked for Smit Amandla Marine for many years, was salvage master on many wrecks on our shores, including the Treasure, Sealand Express and the Ikan Tanda. This is the first passenger ship he has worked on.
Murray, who began his career with Sloane as cadets in Safmarine in 1980, said “all South Africans can take their hats off to Nick”.
“He is intelligent, no question. He and I studied master’s together and it used to (annoy) me that Nick could go out and party and have a good time and still do really well the next day, better than I did who spent the night with my nose in a textbook. But being good at this is not just about being bright. There is a lot of stuff about salvage you can’t learn in a textbook. You’ve got to think on your feet and Nick can. He can deal with setbacks as they come up when you don’t have much time. He also has an adventurous streak. He is confident enough in his abilities to take risks,” Murray said.
Okke Grapow, senior adviser of maritime projects at the SA Maritime Safety Authority, who has worked with Sloane as an auditor for Lloyds on several salvage operations, described him as “one of the best there is”.
“He’s proved that a number of times. Maritime salvage is a very complex subject and you need to be multi-skilled. Nick is.
“In a team of 20 specialised people, he will be dealing with 40 different issues, and he keeps all those balls in the air and stays in control. He deals with the detail but never loses sight of the big picture. He is a team player, and knows how to take charge and handle conflict. We’re very proud of Nick,” Grapow said.