Update: July 23, 3:20 p.m. Costa Concordia departs from Giglio After two and half years and a disaster that claimed 32 lives, the Costa Concordia, half a wreck and half a ship, is sailing again.
Church bells, sirens and applause resounded in the Italian port of Giglio this morning as a huge fountain of water sprang from one of the tugboats near the wrecked Costa Concordia cruise liner. The spectacular sight marked the end of the maneuvering operations and the moment the Concordia said goodbye to Giglio.
Since it capsized on the rocky shore of the Tuscan island on Jan. 13, 2012, killing 32 people, the wreck has been a haunting presence, a reminder of a night of terror and death. The cries of more than 4200 scared and injured passengers still echo in the residents' memories.
But at night, with all her lights on, the ship became almost reassuring presence, her devastated, twisted starboard side disappearing in the darkness.
It took the Concordia little more than a hour to partially sink when it capsized on the night Captain Francesco Schettino allegedly drove it on an unauthorized route too close to shore, ripping a huge gash in the hull. It took salvage crews 922 days to put the ship upright, refloat, and tow her away during what has become the largest maritime salvage operation in history.
Sandwiched between 30 flotation caissons, or sponsons, connected under the rusting hull by huge chains and cables weighing about 30 million metric tons, the Concordia left from Giglio with a massive convoy of 14 ships. They will escort, in a sort of funeral procession, the once gleaming white liner all the way to Genoa. There the Concordia will meet its fate in a scrapeyard.
"I'll miss her," an elderly woman said, with tears in her eyes. Along with other locals, tourists and journalists, she watched the ship fading away in the horizon.
Seen from the open sea during the ship's first five miles (journalists were offered a close up view of the sailing wreck) the Concordia looks like an unreal sight, a rusty atoll with towering steel boxes at its sides which has risen from the waters.
To the Corsican, as well as environmental campaigners, the Concordia is a "floating bomb" which could explode anytime with her cargo of 12 tons of toxic substances and polluted seawater causing a "maritime Chernobyl."
Italian authorities have reassured that "rigorous and constant" checks will be systematically carried out on the waters around ship.
Able to withstand waves of up to 8.5 feet (which have never occurred in the past 20 years at this time of year in Italy) the wrecked ship is being towed from the bow by the Dutch Blizzard and the Vanuatu-flagged Resolve Earl, two strong tugboats, which churn ahead of the Concordia by about 0.5 miles.
Two other auxiliary tugs are positioned about 0.7 miles aft of the ship. All around, at a distance of 0.8 miles, is an impressive armada of anti-pollution and safety vessels.
They include two oil spill response ships carrying absorbent booms, two vessels equipped with oil skimmers, a pontoon with a 200-metric-ton crane to be used in case one of the flotation sponsons slips, a ship equipped with a helicopter, and other vessels carrying marine biologists and environmental specialists for water testing.
Aboard the Concordia in the so called remote control room, a container built on top of the liner, is a team of 12 people. These skilled technicians, including savage master Nick Sloane, have been in charge of the wreck removal operation ever since the ship was pulled upright last September.
Another 47 technicians, including divers and salvation experts, are ready to act 24 hours a day.
One of the most impressive environmental disaster response convoys ever assembled, the flotilla will sail approximately 200 nautical miles -- past the islands of Montecristo, Pianosa and the French island of Corsica and through a whale and dolphin reserve -- before reaching Genoa.
The passage near Corsica will be closely watched by two ships of the French navy. Aboard the ships there will be Segolene Royal, the French Environment Minister, and the Defense minister Jean-Yves Le Drian.
With the Concordia traveling at the current speed of two knots an hour, it is estimated the convoy will reach the port of Genoa between Saturday July 26th and Sunday July 27th.
At 6 pm today the Concordia had navigated for about 18 miles, after two changes of directions corresponding to two of the 13 planned steps. The convoy is about 11 miles northwest from Isola del Giglio and about 20 miles from Isola di Montecristo.
Discovery News will follow the voyage with daily updates.