The Costa Concordia, the cruise ship that ran aground near the island of Giglio, is beginning the salvage process today with a technique called parbuckling. The ship will then be pulled off the seabed and rotated onto giant platforms 30 meters about 98 feet below the water level. Areas of the ship that have been dry for months will be submerged and filled with water.
A ship this large and this heavy, around 114,000 tons, has never been parbuckled before. It is the largest maritime salvage operation ever, according to the cruise line. And expensive too, costing nearly $800 million so far. Normally, crews would blow up the ship or take it apart on site. That would be the cheaper route, but officials say that's not an option with the Costa Concordia, because the ship is filled with noxious substances, and because there are two bodies still believed to be either trapped between the ship and its rocky resting place or somewhere deep in the ship's hollow hull.
Now, debate is turning to whether or not it would be more beneficial to the tiny island of Giglio in Italy to clear out all the equipment from the salvage mission, leaving the island exactly as it was before the wreck or to leave some of it. Some say that the business brought in and the potential for new endeavors are exactly what the island needs.
CNN reports that the tiny island has been the benefactor of a steady stream of business in the time since the January 13, 2012 disaster that left 32 people dead, 2 of them still on the ship. Giglio's permanent population of around 1,000 has been bolstered by a constant crew of at least 500 Titan Salvage and Micoperi workers from 21 nations who have, in many ways, invaded paradise. Many live offshore in a floating dormitory called the Discovery, but they all make their way to the island on a regular basis.
On any given night of the week, the port side bars are filled with men in gray Titan Salvage jumpsuits. Some wear holsters with scissors hanging on them, the cowboy equivalent of a pistol for deep sea oil rig divers. Others sling their red inflatable Titan-Micoperi life vests over their shoulders or dangle them on the barstools.
Franca Melis, who owns a small enoteca called La Galera in Castello on the top of the island's hill and a dive shop down in the port, says it is hypocritical for islanders to complain that the Concordia has ruined their livelihood, especially in the port. The economic slump surely has as much to do with a drop in tourists, and anyway, even in good years people were never able to rent their properties year round like they do now to the salvage workers. She even sees a silver lining. She is lobbying other islanders to push to keep the massive platforms Titan-Micoperi installed to stabilize the ship even after the Concordia is towed away.
"It would give us one of the best dive schools in the world," she told CNN. "We can't rewind the clock and pretend none of this happened, instead we have to look at ways to make it work for the island's vitality."
Melis's main opposition to keeping the platforms is the island's headstrong mayor Sergio Ortelli, who wants Costa Crociere, the cruise company owned by Carnival, to keep its promise to return his island to exactly the way it was before anyone had ever heard of the Costa Concordia, both above and below the waterline.
"We need our island back exactly way it was before that terrible day," he says. He still recalls how many passengers slept in his office that fateful night, and he says he feels a personal responsibility to the islanders to hold Costa to its promise. "Everything must go," he says. "Not just the ship."
Meanwhile, Francesco Schettino, the captain who guided the ship off course, faces charges of manslaughter, causing a maritime disaster and abandoning ship with passengers still on board. His trial resumes in Grosseto on September 23.
Image Via wikipedia