Search Begins for Costa Concordia's Missing Bodies
The effort to raise the Costa Concordia began on Giglio Island at dawn on Sept. 16 -- with a delay.
A fierce overnight lightning storm forced the technicians working at the daunting refloating operation to postpone by three hours.
The $800-million operation to right the ship begins, and is expected to last 12 hours. The first phase, one of the most delicate steps of the entire recovery plan, involves dislodging the hull from the rock onto which it has molded itself.
The refloating operation is carried out by engineers of the U.S. firm Titan Salvage and Italy's Micoperi. They operate from a control room aboard a barge near the Concordia's bow.
Two hours after the beginning of the operations, about 3 feet of the submerged hull is clearly distinguishable as a slimy, dark colored strip emerges in strong contrast with the exposed part of the hull.
The hull is detached from the rocks, report Franco Gabrielli, head of the civil protection agency, and project manager Sergio Girotto.
As a good portion of water-stained ship is exposed, salvage workers begin to clean and disentangle chains and other materials from the side of the ship that has been submerged for nearly two years.
"At the moment everything is going smoothly," says the civil protection agency's Girotto. "We have no issues to worry about, but this is a very complex operation and we are not going to rush."
The delicate operation is going to continue through the night and into Tuesday.
Franco Porcellacchia, the director of technical operations at Concordia's owner, Costa Cruises, denies a delay.
"We did not set up a date. Our goal is to get things done in the best possible way."
More than 10 hours after the beginning of the refloating of the Costa Concordia, the wreck barely reaches a 13-degree rotation, exposing about 13 feet of the submerged wreck.
The arrows show how much the Concordia has been lifted in about eight hours -- from 11 a.m. (right) to 7 p.m. (left).
As the day fades on Giglio, the island prepares for a long night. Engineers announce that the lifting of the Concordia will not be completed until dawn on Tuesday at the earliest.
A ghostly image of the Concordia wreck appears on the monitors in the press room as engineers and salvage crew work through the night. The Concordia's rotation steadily approaches the 24 degrees required for intake valves of 11 caissons to reach sea level.
Once the caissons are filled with water, gravity will take over helping the rotation.
The Concordia enters the last phase of the rotation, reaching the crucial 24-degree angle. It's a milestone. Now the wreck no longer needs to be pulled by the strand jacks, but can rotate under its own momentum and under the weight of the ballast water contained in the caissons.
The salvage master Nick Sloane controls the flow of water entering the caissons.
The capsized Concordia is now being totally pulled by the water-filled caissons. The wreck reaches a 35-degree rotation.
In the darkness of the night, a horrifying image of destruction emerges from the starboard side of the wreck. Parts of it appear to be literally mangled.
The Parbuckling Project
After 610 days on the rocky shore of Giglio, shortly after 4 a.m., a foghorn wails on the harbor signaling that the Costa Concordia is finally brought upright. The Giglio inhabitants erupt in a long applause.
The Concordia now rests safely on the specially built artificial seabed, at a depth of approximately 98 feet.
It took the 114,500-ton ship little more than a hour to partially sink when it capsized on Jan. 13, 2012, and about 19 hours to be raised during a complex, unprecedented re-floating operation.
The search for two lost victims of the Costa Concordia cruise ship disaster began on Tuesday off the Tuscan island of Giglio, as divers scoured the area between the recently righted ship and the shoreline.
The Concordia had 4,229 people from 70 countries on board when captain Francesco Schettino allegedly drove it on an unauthorized route too close to shore, ripping a huge gash in the hull.
As the 114,000-ton ship tumbled onto its side on Jan. 13, 2012, it claimed 32 lives. Among them, two bodies — Italian passenger Maria Grazia Tricarichi and Indian crew member Russel Rebello — are still missing.
The search comes after the Concordia was pulled upright last week in an unprecedented operation.
“The righting of the ship has now made it possible to access areas of the vessel and the seafloor which were previously off limits,” Italy’s civil protection said.
Back in vertical position, the Concordia will also allow new investigations on board.
Judges at the trial, in a converted theater in the town of Grosseto, accepted Tuesday the request of Schettino’s legal team to tour the wreck.
Backed by consumer group Codacons, which is a civil party to the case, the inspection aims to look for evidence of possible technical faults, such as watertight doors not sealed properly, that may be related to the death of the 32 victims.
“Schettino is not the only one responsible,” said Daniele Bocciolini, a lawyer for several survivors.
“He’s not responsible for the lifeboats that couldn’t be launched nor for the emergency generators that failed,” he added.
On Monday, Schettino, who faces 20 years in prison if convicted of charges including manslaughter and abandoning ship, blamed his Indonesian helmsman for the crash.
He told the court that he ordered him to steer left as the Concordia sailed too close to Giglio’s rocky coastline, but the crewman reacted slowly and shifted to the right instead.
“If it weren’t for the helmsman’s delay and error … the collision wouldn’t have happened,” Schettino said.
But a maritime expert, Italian Adm. Giuseppe Cavo Dragone, told the court that although the helmsman was 13 seconds late in executing the maneuver and had indeed made a mistake, the crash would have happened anyway.
The helmsman, Jacob Rusli Bin, is one of five Costa employees who was granted a plea deal. None of the five is likely to serve time behind bars.
Costa Cruises itself avoided a trial by agreeing to pay a 1 million euro ($1.35 million) fine.
A Florence court is now considering the validity of those plea bargain deals.
“After the righting of the ship, now the trial is getting righter,” Bocciolini said.
The hearing will continue for the rest of the week.
Image: Searching for the two missing bodies by the Concordia’s most damaged side. Credit: Rossella Lorenzi