UNDERWAY ON HER FINAL VOYAGE
Shawn J. Dake
COSTSA CONCORDIA with caissons prior to her refloating in July 2013. Creative Commons license
The final stages of the largest marine salvage project in history came a step closer to completion Wednesday, July 23, 2014, as the COSTA CONCORDIA began to move away from the island of Giglio on a one-way voyage to Genoa, Italy for dismantling. The ocean-going tug BLIZZARD took the lead position in the tow off the wrecked cruise ship’s starboard bow, accompanied by the tug RESOLVE EARL on her port side. Altogether 14 vessels of varying descriptions will accompany the convoy at a speed of no more than 2.5 knots across the open water. The remains of the COSTA CONCORDIA are expected to reach Genoa on Sunday. The weather outlook is for calm seas and no wind, perfect conditions for the delicate operation. The trickiest part of the journey comes as the tow passes the northern tip of the island of Corsica away from the lee of the islands and enters open waters. At that point the convoy will be escorted by a French Navy vessel.
The COSTA CONCORDIA was completed in 2006 at a cost of approximately 450 million Euros or $570 million U.S. The 114,147 gross ton cruise ship was the lead ship of a five-ship class of 952 foot long, 116 foot beam vessels that were themselves expanded versions of the earlier COSTA FORTUNA type. The Costa Crociere ships share a common platform and dimensions with several vessels in the fleet of Carnival Cruise Lines. The COSTA CONCORDIA was designed to sail with 3,004 passengers based on two per cabin. On her final voyage she is carrying 17 salvage crew aboard. The ship was wrecked on January 13, 2012 on Isola del Giglio, Italy, grounding after hitting a rock by sailing too close to shore. The cause of the disaster, which claimed 32 lives, is largely blamed on the actions of the captain, Francesco Schettino, who remains free pending the outcome of a trial that has dragged on for a year with numerous adjournments. He faces criminal charges of manslaughter, causing a shipwreck and abandoning ship.
The COSTA CONCORDIA was refloated on July 14th after having been rolled into an upright position in September 2013. The ship had been capsized with her starboard side submerged. Huge sponsons attached fore and aft were pumped free of ballast water and will support the ship on her last journey. Thirty additional buoyancy tanks and platforms line the length of the ship on both sides. The salvage work has been handled by the U.S. firm of Titan Salvage and the Italian Micoperi. The departure from Giglio was a mixture of solemnity and celebration. Huge crowds gathered on the shore to witness the historic day. Survivors threw flowers in the sea as a remembrance. For others, a party atmosphere prevailed as crowds that included salvage workers celebrated a successful conclusion to their phase of the operation. Church bells rang out and both locals and tourists joined in what was non-ironically described as a carnival-like atmosphere. The Blue Peter flag was hoisted over the ship indicating that it was ready to sail. A fireboat displayed a massive water salute in farewell. On a day filled with mixed emotions, salvage master Nick Sloane was quoted as saying “Everything is going according to plan and it’s a big day for Giglio, but we can only relax once we get to Genoa.” The journey will take the COSTA CONCORDIA 191 nautical miles north to that Italian seafaring city where plans call for the ship to be dismantled at San Giorgio del Porto shipyard, a yard known for doing repairs and refitting and now destined for recycling. The final cost of the largest maritime salvage operation in history is likely to top 1.5 billion Euros or $2 billion U.S. As this is written at 3:30pm local time in Italy (Thursday, July 24th), the tow is proceeding normally at 2.7 knots with all support vessels in their proper positions. Arrival time in Genoa is projected to be 12:00 noon on Sunday, July 27th.
Shawn J. Dake, freelance travel writer and regular contributor to MaritimeMatters, worked in tourism and cruise industry for over 35 years. A native of Southern California, his first job was as a tour guide aboard the Queen Mary. A frequent lecturer on ship-related topics he has appeared on TV programs. Owner of Oceans Away Cruises & Travel agency, he served as President of the local Chapter of Steamship Historical Society of America. With a love of the sea, he is a veteran of 115 cruises.
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