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Titan, Italian salvors complete $2 billion Costa Concordia job

Oct 3, 2014 11:46 AM
The upright Costa Concordia is refloated along Giglio Island and is almost ready to be towed away.

Photo courtesy Parbuckling Project

The upright Costa Concordia is refloated along Giglio Island and is almost ready to be towed away.

The largest salvage operation, by weight, in maritime history was completed on July 27 with the towing of Costa Concordia to Genoa, Italy, and the transfer of ownership of the vessel to the company that will break it apart for scrap.

It took about four days to tow the 952-foot cruise ship about 200 nm from where it was wrecked off Giglio Island to the port of Genoa Pra-Voltri. 

On Jan. 13, 2012, Costa Concordia’s captain took the ship, carrying 4,229 passengers and crew,  within 500 feet of Giglio Island. The 114,147-gt vessel struck a rock and sank, settling on its starboard side at a 66-degree list. Thirty-two people died in the disaster.

The salvage was done by Houston-based Titan Salvage and the Italian marine contractor Micoperi. The project began in April 2012 and was originally estimated to cost $300 million. The final cost has been estimated at $2 billion.

Among numerous challenges, putting together a team of specialists from all over the world was the first. “You can imagine the different cultures and approaches to the job,” said Franco Porcellacchia, project manager on behalf of Carnival Corp., owner of the cruise line Costa Crociere. “It took some time to have them working together. But we became a very powerful organization.”

The tow began at about 1100 on July 23. At 1030 on July 24, Costa Concordia was more than 50 nm off Giglio Island. On July 26, the tow was less than 20 nm from the port of Genoa Pra-Voltri. It entered port on July 27 and was moored in the harbor at 0130.

Porcellacchia was on Costa Concordia as it left Giglio Island. “That the vessel was leaving and floating again was really moving. Looking from the ship at that part of the island without the wreck was an unusual sight. It had become part of the landscape. We all worked to remove that scar from that beautiful island,” he said.

There were two tugboats, Blizzard and Resolve Earl, off Costa Concordia’s bow, towing the ship. The two tugs have a combined 24,000 hp and 275 tons of bollard pull. Two auxiliary tugs were positioned aft. Another 10 vessels were part of the convoy, including an accommodation vessel, an Italian coast guard vessel, two vessels to test water quality around the tow, a vessel at the head of the tow that kept watch for marine mammals, and a pontoon with a 200-ton crane, carrying people and equipment. 

Above, the U.K.-flagged tugboat Afon Cefni leads the way as the wreck enters Genoa Harbor in July. More than a dozen tugs and support vessels were part of the flotilla.

Photo courtesy Parbuckling Project

Nick Sloane, salvage master for the project, and Rick Habib, salvage director, were among nine men onboard Costa Concordia during the tow to monitor the vessel’s list, ballasting and speed, among other factors. Both men are Titan employees.
 
The average speed of the tow ranged from 1 knot to 2 knots. For the most part, winds were light from the south and seas were calm. On July 24, winds were from the north/northeast at 13 knots. There was no pollution from the wreck during the tow, according to Porcellacchia.

“After the refloating, the towing was a piece of cake,” he said.

Porcellacchia’s feelings about the successful salvage were tinged by the disaster. “The success of the operation we didn’t consider a triumph,” he said. “All of us had in mind from the very beginning to the very end that the origin of this was a tragedy — that 32 people died, and one of the divers.” As a result of the sinking, “we took the commitment to make our remediation for this terrible mistake.”

Costa Concordia had been resting on six underwater platforms since September 2013. On Sept. 16 and 17, the ship was rotated 35 degrees to an upright position from where it rested on its starboard side on the sea floor. Prior to the righting, called parbuckling, 11 giant watertight steel boxes were attached to the wreck’s port side.
 
Drilling of the underwater platforms was one of the most challenging parts of the salvage, Porcellacchia said. Salvors had to drill 17 holes, each about 6.5 feet in diameter, in granite for the poles to support the platform. “In certain cases, the rock was very solid,” he said. “In other cases, it was more difficult because the rock was not consistent — there was also sand. So this was very challenging. Certain holes, it took months to accomplish.”

The parbuckling was another major challenge. “We didn’t know exactly the strength of the wreck,” Porcellacchia said. There were concerns that the bow might break away. So, two tanks were created and placed on each side of the bow to reduce tension on the hull. Because of the numerous variables, assumptions had to be made about the force needed to turn the wreck. “So we were nervous at the time of the parbuckle,” he said. “We didn’t know how the turn of the bilge would support the force” required to rotate the wreck.

After the successful parbuckling, four more sponsons were added to the port side and 11 sponsons were attached to the starboard side.

On July 3, an additional six sponsons were attached to the starboard side. Ultimately, there were 30 sponsons on the wreck.

Refloating Costa Concordia began on July 13. Ballast water was slowly removed from the sponsons using a pneumatic system, providing the necessary buoyancy. It took 10 days to bring Costa Concordia up to a position where it had a draft of about 60 feet. Once the ship was successfully refloated, a team of tugs kept constant pressure on a series of lines that ensured it would remain upright. In addition, divers and remotely operated vehicles (ROVs) monitored the sponsons, cables and chains under the hull, as well as the tow lines.
 
Costa Concordia was removed from the wreck site in one piece, rather than broken up where it sank, due to concerns about pollution at Giglio Island, which depends on tourism for its economic well-being.

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