On the night of January 13, 2012, the 114,500 ton cruise liner Costa Concordia ran aground on the island of Giglio located just off Italy’s Tuscan coast, killing 32 people and resulting in what would become the largest and most expensive maritime salvage in history.
A team consisting of Titan Salvage, a subsidiary of U.S.-based Crowley Maritime, and the Italian firm Micoperi won the tender for the ship’s removal, and they later submitted a salvage plan that involved removing the ship in one piece, minimizing the long-term risk to the environment.
The plan was to raise the vessel using an age-old technique known as “parbuckling,” which basically means using leverage to rotate a ship or large object to an upright position, so the cruise ship could be refloated and towed away from the island in one piece. The technique had been used before, most notably to right U.S. Navy ships following the attack on Pearl Harbor, but never before had it ever been tried on this scale.
For over a year leading up to the parbuckling, a team of about 500 salvage workers and engineers has worked around the clock to make sure the operation, easily the most crucial part of salvage, went off without a hitch. There was no plan B.
Here is a collection of pictures from the operation to upright, or parbuckle, the Costa Concordia:
The Costa Concordia wreck site as seen from the air. This photo was taken August 26, 2013, as final preparations for the parbuckling were underway.
Nick Sloane, the South African Salvage Master who led the operation for the Titan-Micoperi consortium, stands in front of the shipwreck in the days leading up to the parbuckling. Little did he know, the successful parbuckling would make him a household name from the global media frenzy that surrounded the historic parbuckling.
The parbuckling operation was expected to start at 6 a.m. CEST (local Giglio time) on September 16, 2013, and last 10 to 12 hours, however, overnight thunderstorms prevented salvage crews from making final preparations on the morning of.
The parbuckling would eventually begin at 9 a.m., three hours behind schedule. Live coverage of the entire event was streamed live into the homes of millions by nearly every major news outlet.
The parbuckling itself was a slow process. Watching it live, it was hard to tell if anything at all was happening. However, an ever-growing line of brown scum that had formed in the 20 months since the grounding provided a clear indication that the ship was, in fact, moving upright.
The picture below gives a good view of the strand jacks and sponsons attached the above-water side of the Costa Concordia. The cables connected to the jacks attached to underwater platforms and helped to pull the ship upright.
The brown scum grew, proof that the parbuckling was working, albeit slowly.
Not only was the parbuckling viewed on TV and online, but thousands hugged the shores of the island to watch the historic operation.
As the ship was raised, salvage crews worked on the parts of the ship previously hidden beneath the waves to clear any obstructions that could get in the way.
About midway through the first phase of the operation, officials gave an update that the ship had been rotated 10 degrees from its starting position and was entirely off the reef for the first time in nearly two years. It seemed like a sigh of relief for sure, because it was unclear just how firmly the ship was wedged into the rock prior to the lift.
The parbuckling was held up for one hour as crews performed maintenance on the strand jacks, adjusting the tension to the lines. It was at this point that officials said the operation would take longer than expected, continuing through the night and into the wee hours of Tuesday morning (September 17, 2013).
As dusk fell, the ship kept moving upright, slowly.
The first phase was the pulling of the ship upright. The second phase involved lowering the ship by ballasting the sponsons attached to the ship’s port side, gently lowering her onto underwater platforms which had been built below the vessel.
After 25 degrees of rotation, it was time for gravity to take over. Crews carefully adjusted the water levels in the sponsons to gently lower the ship to an upright position. The movement of the ship would noticeably pick up at this point.
At about 4 a.m. CEST Tuesday, after 19 hours of work, officials announced the successful completion of the parbuckling.
The first photos of the ship’s submerged side were shocking.
Nick Sloane, who had been calling the shots from an offshore command post, returned to Giglio to a heros welcome, and mobbed by press. Congratulations, Nick! Someone get that guy a beer!!
Once the sun came up, the amount of damage to the ship’s submerged side really came to light.
A side view of the ship showed where it was resting on two rock outcrops. Now you can see why getting the ship off the rocks was so crucial.
With the parbuckling completed, crews would eventually attach more sponsons to the Costa Concordia’s submerged side, crucial to the refloating and towing operation required in the later stages of the salvage.
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UPDATE: In July 2014, the Costa Concordia was successfully refloated and towed to the port of Genoa where it will be scrapped.
Full Coverage: Costa Concordia Refloating and Tow