Navy officials release a wreath in front of the Costa Concordia liner to mark the second anniversary of the tragedy, outside Giglio harbour January 13, 2014. REUTERS/Max Rossi
It was two years ago today that the Costa Concordia ran aground off Isola Del Giglio during an impromptu island ‘salute’ ordered by the captain, resulting in the loss of 32 lives and kicking off the largest maritime salvage job in history.
In the second year since the disaster, we have seen a shift from some of the initial implications and response to a better understanding of what went wrong, the long term ramifications of the disaster, the scope of the salvage project, and what sort of justice is being had.
Most recently, we have been given an updated timetable of when the now-upright wreck is expected to be refloated and removed from the island (June 2014) and where the vessel may be scrapped (a handful of companies throughout Italy and others in Europe and Asia are currently bidding to dispose of the ship). But this news comes following a long year of events surrounding the disaster.
From the massive parbuckling operation to the trial of Captain Schettino, here’s look back at some of the stories that have made headlines in the second year since the disaster:
January 13, 2013 – One Year Anniversary
The one year anniversary of the Costa Concordia disaster came and went with no signs of the two people still missing and calls for Italy to provide a final casualty report on its investigation into incident.
Italian prosecutors announced they would pursue criminal charges against Captain Francesco Schettino on charges of manslaughter, causing a shipwreck and abandoning ship. Prosecutors also expanded the probe to five other officials on charges ranging from manslaughter to failure to cooperate with marine authorities.
Prosecutors rejected a plea bargain offer made by Schettino to serve three years and four months in prison. A week later a judge ruled that Schettino would stand trial over the disaster on charges that, if found guilty, could send the captain to prison for 20 years or more.
On the other hand, prosecutors accepted plea bargains for the five other officials, including four of the ship’s officers and the crisis coordinator of the vessel’s owners, Costa Cruises.
The Italian Ministry of Infrastructures and Transports released the long-awaited report on its investigation into the casualty. The lengthy 176-page report confirmed everyone’s suspicions that the “human element” was the root cause of the casualty, saying that the ship was “sailing too close to the coastline, in a poorly lit shore area, under the Master’s command who had planned to pass at an unsafe distance at night time and at high speed (15.5 kts).”
Some sighs of relief came in June when scientists in Italy determined that the Costa Concordia shipwreck and operations to remove the vessel have had no impact on the water quality surrounding the site or on the shores of Isolia Del Giglio. The determination gave hope to the small island community that life could return to normal once the wreck and new artificial seabed is eventually removed.
It was around this point that Titan-Micoperi said that the parbuckling would be completed by the end of summer.
The trial of Captain Schettino kicked off in Grosseto, Italy but was immediately suspended because of a lawyers’ strike. The trial resumed July 17 with defense lawyers arguing that Schettino actually prevented an even worse disaster by steering the ship back to shore after the initial impact with rocks. Schettino also claims he did never abandoned ship, rather was thrown overboard by the heavily listing ship.
Four Costa Concordia crewmembers and a company official became the first people to receive jail sentences in exchange for pleading guilty, but some argued that their sentences -ranging from 18 to 34 months- were too lenient given the crimes committed. None of the five were expected to be jailed as their sentences were suspended.
Officials in Italy gave engineers the green light to carry out the parbuckling operation, with the final go-ahead coming about a week later once all the proper test certificates had been received. The kickoff of the operation, which was heavily reliant on weather conditions, was given a window of September 16 to September 20.
With the parbuckling approaching, an official from Costa Cruises estimated that the cost of the salvage was estimated to be $800 million and rising, making the project the most expensive maritime salvage in history. It’s also estimated that he overall insurance loss from the accident could surpass $1.1 billion.
September 16-17, 2013 – The Parbuckling
Some overnight thunderstorms delayed the start of the parbuckling operation by a few hours, but the operation commenced just after sunrise on September 16.
The operation to upright the ship was slow and suffered some relatively minor setbacks, but sure enough an ever-growing line on slime on the ship’s hull offered proof that the ship was in fact moving.
After a 19 hour parbuckling operation, the Costa Concordia was finally sitting upright on its artificial seabed for the first time in 20 months. The operation was described as a complete success.
The damage seen the next day, on the other, was almost indescribable.
September 17, 2013 – Nick Sloane
South African Salvage Master, Nick Sloane, who is heading the salvage for the Titan-Micoperi consortium, gained overnight fame following the successful parbuckling operation. Sloane was working on to remove the MV Rena containership from a reef in New Zealand when he got the call to lead what has turned out to be the largest salvage job in maritime history.
With the Costa Concordia upright, an Italian court called for a new expert examination of the Costa Concordia to seek further evidence related to its sinking, accepting a request from the lawyers of the ship’s captain and civil parties. Within days, officials made the announcement that divers had discovered human remains consistent with the two missing. It was later confirmed through DNA testing that some of the remains were that of an Italian female passenger, one of two people still missing.
In October, it was revealed that Costa Crociere has contracted the world’s largest semi-submersible heavy lift ship, the Dockwise Vangaurd, to literally lift the now-upright shipwreck and carry it, not tow it, to a location for dismantling. While the exact location of where the ship will be brought is yet to be determined, the plan remains that the Dockwise Vanguard to lift the ship and transport it to its final resting place once it is refloated in June.
The Italian Coast Guard officer who famously ordered disgraced Costa Concordia captain Francesco Schettino to “get back to the ship” in a phone conversation recorded almost an hour after the vessel hit rocks, took the stand in the trial against the Captain, testifying that hundreds of people were still aboard the heavily listing cruise ship as Schettino fled in a lifeboat.
December 20, 2013 – GAO Says Cruise Ship Safety Has Improved
The U.S. Government Accountibility Office released an audit determining that the cruise industry and federal agencies have implemented an admirable 11 of 15 safety provisions listed under the 2010 Cruise Vessel Security and Safety Act (CVSSA), although some concerns remain about crime reporting.
The study was commissioned partly as a result of numerous passenger safety issues reported by the media, including the 2012 Costa Concordia grounding.
With the two-year anniversary of the sinking approaching, officials in Italy met with the media to provide an update on the salvage project and an updated timeline of when the vessel is expected to refloated. As it stands right now, the vessel will be refloated in June before it is taken to a port for dismantling. Officials have named a handful of Italian ports—including Piombino, Genoa, Palermo and Civitavecchia—vying to take the wreck, but ports in France, Turkey, Britain and even China are also bidding for the job. A decision on where exactly the vessel is headed won’t come until March.
January 13, 2014 – Two Year Anniversary
Flowers released by a relative of a victim float on the sea next to the Costa Concordia cruise liner, following a ceremony to mark the second anniversary of the tragedy, outside Giglio harbour January 13, 2014.
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