At 4 a.m. on Tuesday morning, a foghorn wailed as engineers completed the complicated parbuckling operation raising the wrecked Costa Concordia cruise ship into an upright position. Residents of the island of Giglio and workers alike celebrated the successful operation.
"We completed the parbuckling operation a few minutes ago the way we thought it would happen and the way we hoped it would happen," said Franco Porcellacchia, a project manager for Costa Crociere, the owner of the Costa Concordia. "A perfect operation, I must say," he said, claiming there had been no apparent environmental spill detected.
Speaking to reporters, Admiral Stefano Tortora, who took part in the operation, spoke of "great satisfaction" over the outcome. He said the maneuver to turn the ship upright had been perfectly calculated.
The parbuckling operation was the most dramatic and vulnerable of the salvage effort, because no one knew how badly damaged the starboard side of the ship would be. "The condition it's in is really shocking," said Tortora. "It is disturbing because you are looking at a tragedy."
Nick Sloane, a salvage master with Titan Salvage of Florida, one of two companies with technical responsibility for the maneuver, said serious damage had been caused by the capsizing, 20 months of the ship's weight and the operation to rotate the ship had caused serious damage.
The Costa Concordia rammed into a reef on Jan. 13, 2012, and then drifted, listed and capsized just off the coast of Giglio island. The accident -- and the chaotic and much maligned evacuation operation -- resulted in the deaths of 32 people. The ship had been carrying some 4,000 passengers and crew.
A 19-Hour Operation
In the end, it took 19 hours to lift the 290-meter-long (951-foot-long), 35-meter-wide ship into an upright position. Ten to 12 hours had been initially planned, but stormy weather led to delay in the operation's start by two hours. Then problems had to be resolved with the system of huge jacks and cables set on artificial platforms used to lift up the 115,000 ton ship.
"We raised the ship very slowly," said Andreas Rosponi, CEO of the Hamburg engineering firm Overdick, which helped to handle the calculations. "If we had used bigger oil pumps in the hydraulics, we would have been faster. But better safe than sorry!"
Parbuckling -- or hoisting with a carefully-engineered system of pulleys, cables, chains and other equipment -- is a standard procedure for lifting ships that have capsized. However it had never before been used on a cruise ship of Costa Concordia's size, and this week's righting of the ship was a first in nautical history.
After stabilizing the ship in its upright position and resting it on an artificial platform that has been constructed on the seabed to support the ship, efforts in the coming weeks will be focused on repairs to make the vessel safe for towing. During the first half of 2014, salvage operators plan to tow away the massive ship, which is larger than the Titanic, for scrapping.
'She's Strong Enough to Be Towed'
"We have to do a really detailed inspection of the damage," salvage master Sloane told reporters. But "she was strong enough to come up like this, she's strong enough to be towed."
Local residents of Giglio will be happy once the eyesore is gone. "We salute the work of the engineers and technicians," said Eugenio, a man sitting at a bar with friends in the port. When asked if things would soon be back to normal on the island, he said, "When the Concordia is gone, when we finally have an open view of the sea again."
Costa Concordia's captain, Francesco Schettino, is currently on trial on charges of manslaughter, causing a shipwreck and abandoning ship during the evacuation. Four other crew members, as well as the head of Costa Crociere's crisis unit, have been convicted and handed down short sentences for their roles in the accident. The captain and crew have been accused of numerous failures in the evacuation of the ship, including delays and chaos.