The head of the parbuckling project Nick Sloane poses as Costa Concordia lies on its side next to Giglio Island, September 14, 2013. The wrecked Costa Concordia cruise ship could be upright again next week, nearly two years after the liner capsized and killed at least 30 people off the Italian coast. REUTERS/Tony Gentile (ITALY - Tags: TRANSPORT DISASTER)

Cape Town - It took 33 000 tons of steel, enough to build a tanker, to construct the structures used in the “par buckling” operation to remove the wreck of the cruise ship Costa Concordia from the coast of the Italian island of Grigio last year.

South African salvage master Nick Sloane, who headed the gigantic two-year operation to remove the huge ship from the rocky coast where it had run aground, capsized and partially sunk in 2012, has deservedly had many accolades bestowed upon him.

The precision work required to make a success of an operation, prematurely doomed to failure by salvage experts and environmentalists around the world, has set a number of new records in the maritime industry.

Recently, Sloane has had the most prominent official recognition of his achievement yet, when the German marine research orga isation GEOMAR chose to award him its Deutscher Meerespreis 2015, a prize highly regarded in maritime and environmental circles.

Sloane is clearly proud of receiving the reward, but quick to point out that it was earned with the help of the many professionals with whom he had worked over the years.

“Succeeding with an operation such as the Costa Concordia wreck removal is not something that happens on its own,” he pointed out near his home in Somerset West on Wednesday.

“All the operations I’ve worked on over the years bring together the experience and knowledge, of the people I’ve worked with on those operations, to contribute hugely to bring things to a point. I really appreciate that,” he said.

“Many of the elements of managing this operation came from previous operations. The management of the operation surrounding the Treasure, a bulk carrier that sank in Table Bay in 2000 and led to the largest ever penguin and sea bird rescue operation, taught me a lot. So did the salvage operation to remove the bulk carrier Ikan Tanda off the beach at Scarborough near Kommetjie.

“You work with professionals and you see how things develop. I learnt from those operations to run a transparent operation and to make sure everybody knew at all times what was going on, as far as is possible.”

At times, it meant telling nay-sayers what was going to be done and challenging them to make a contribution.

High profile environmental organisations opposed the operation on the grounds that they believed it would end with the ship breaking and spilling pollutants in the sea.

“But we had to tell them, if the ship remained there, it would break up and spill the stuff into the ocean anyway. We had to tell them, look, this is what we are going to do, what can you do to help us?” he said.

“For the Costa Concordia operation, many things had to be done with the kind of precision not achieved before, to deadlines not kept before. There were fantastic professional people around me and it was achieved as a team. In the end, we were able to protect the environment and get the wreck away in one piece.”

The GEOMAR Helmholtz Centre for Ocean Research in Kiel, described Sloane as a “professional optimist”.

“However complicated the task, he will believe in a successful outcome,” the organisation said.

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Cape Argus