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Giglio Island -
Crews led by South African salvage master Nick Sloane on Monday began the painfully slow process of righting the capsized passenger ship Costa Concordia at an Italian island.
Captain Sloane, 52, is a master mariner who worked for Smit Marine South Africa, among others, in a long career involved in salvage.
He has been involved in some of the most dramatic salvage operations along the South African coast and several other large-scale operations internationally.
The Costa Concordia struck a rock and capsized 20 months ago on the coast of the Tuscan island Giglio, killing 32 passengers in an accident found to be the result of negligence by its master, Italian captain Francesco Schettino.
The righting operation, using parbuckling techniques, is the largest yet undertaken in the salvage world. The plan is not to recover the ship and repair it, but to remove the wreck.
To do so, Sloane and his crew have had to draw up a plan to use anchor points constructed on the sea bed, connecting points attached to the ship’s hull, scores of cables and pulleys and specially made caissons attached to the side of the ship.
The preparation work, which took about a year, concluded with the start of the pulling operation at 9am today.
Powerful hydraulic equipment slowly began pulling at the scores of cables attached to the ship to slowly edge the vessel upright, a centimetre at a time.
The original plan was for pulling to start at 6am, but the area around the wreck was hit by severe electric storms late yesterday, delaying the final tasks that had to be performed.
Live streaming footage on Monday revealed how salvage crews swarmed over the wreck for the last time to check everything, while service crews set up an anti-pollution boom around the ship and the service barges around it.
At a press conference that was held as the pulling operation started, operation spokesman Sergio Girotto said pulling would start at 2 000 tons of force.
It would be increased in increments of 100 tons until the 4 000 tons mark was reached.
Cameras were placed all over the wreck, including under the water, to monitor movement, while the results of a change in angle of the wreck were also being monitored, Girotto explained this morning.
Responding to a question from a journalist, technical expert Franco Porcellacchia said the team did not expect the release of any poisonous gases as the ship started lifting.
The pulling operation was expected to take about 12 hours, Girotto said.
Sloane, who was earlier seen having a drink at a small coffee shop in the island’s main town, did not attend the press conference.
Girotto said Sloane would hold a press conference later to announce the end of the operation.
The ship, carrying 4 252 people from all over the world, was on the first leg of a cruise around the Mediterranean, starting from Civitavecchia in Lazio, when she hit a reef during an unofficial near-shore salute to the islanders.
To perform this manoeuvre, Schettino deviated from the ship’s computer-programmed route, claiming he was familiar with the local seabed.
The 290m ship has lain on its side since foundering on the night of January 13 last year. - Cape Argus