Cape Town - One of Somerset West’s most famous citizens will on Monday embark on what was first thought to be mission impossible – the refloating of the Costa Concordia.
On January 13 last year 32 people died when the Costa Concordia hit a rock, capsized and sank on the coast of the Tuscan Giglio Island near the Italian coast.
Twenty months later, in a nerve-wracking 19-hour operation under the command of Cape Town salvage master Nick Sloane, the vessel was righted using a “parbuckle” salvage technique – a huge job for which there was no precedent, no ready-made parts and for which all calculations were based on estimates.
A parbuckle is a loop of rope arranged like a sling used for raising or lowering cylindrical objects and the ship was left sitting upright on the sea bed, on a specially prepared surface and a series of platforms.
Today, the next step is due to unfold – a high-risk salvage operation to raise the rusting hulk and enable its final journey to the Genoa shipyard where it was built, a four-day journey covering 190 nautical miles, towed by a tug.
The plan is to raise and tow away the 114 500 ton, 290m vessel in a delicate operation.
“The most critical phase will be the first day, raising the wreck for the first time. Refloating a passenger ship this large has never been attempted before,” Sloane said.
His wife, Sandra, and three children – twins Jonathan and Nicola, 17, and daughter Julia-Raine, 10, live in Somerset West.
Thirty tanks or “sponsons” have been welded to the sides and will work as a pneumatic system to raise it.
Under the gaze of the world’s media, the operation is expected to start today with workers pumping compressed air into the sponsons to lift the Concordia by 2m.
The environmental committee overseeing the operation gave a preliminary go-ahead on Saturday. Depending on the weather, the operation was scheduled to begin at 6am today.
In a worst-case scenario, some environmentalists warn the hull could break apart and spill its rotting innards into what is one of Europe’s largest marine sanctuaries.
“We’re talking about a floating city kitted out for thousands of passengers, with gallons of pollutants such as oils, detergents and sewage chemicals still inside,” said Giorgia Monti from Greenpeace, which is sending an observation team to monitor the operation.
After the initial lift, tug boats would drag the wreck 30m east and secure it in place before it is slowly buoyed another 10m, with engineers checking each deck for fresh structural damage as they emerge.
A team of experts will manage the operation from a control room under the guidance of Sloane, who has described the salvage as his “most challenging” in a career that has taken him to six continents and two warzones.