Over 2 Years Since Its Wreck, The Costa Concordia Floats Again

The Costa Concordia cruise crashed into a reef and capsized in waters off the island of Giglio in Italy over two years ago. On Monday, the most complicated part of the operation to refloat the ship was completed successfully.

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The wreck of the luxury liner Costa Concordia was re-floated today. The ship capsized two and half years ago off an Italian island. Thirty-two people were killed. NPR's Sylvia Poggioli reports from the island of Giglio. It's the largest maritime salvage in history.

SYLVIA POGGIOLI, BYLINE: The re-floating began at 6 a.m. when the senior salvage master and his team entered the control room on the top deck of the 1,000-foot-long vessel. All ferry traffic with the mainland was halted to allow tugs and support boats free movement between the wreck and the island's small port. The Concordia has been fitted with 30 airtight metal tanks filled with water.

Today compressed air was gradually pumped into the tanks to create sufficient buoyancy to lift the ship. This was the riskiest moment because the hull could've cracked and fallen apart, spilling tons of rotting food, chemical solvents and debris into Europe's biggest Marine sanctuary. But at midday, six hours after work began, the 115,000-ton vessel had cleared its custom-made platform by three feet. Michael Thamm, CEO of the shipowner Costa Crociere, was very satisfied.

MICHAEL THAMM: I'm very pleased that all the engineering work which has been done beforehand is proven to be very, very accurate. The ship was on even keel. The ship is afloat again, and all technical systems are working very well. We have seen a great start of this refloating operation, and let's move forward.

POGGIOLI: By mid-afternoon, the ship had been raised about six feet. It was then slowly towed out to sea, 90 feet eastward, where it was moored to the seabed and land with chains and cables. Over the next six to seven days, the vessel, two-and-a-half times the size of the Titanic, will gradually be raised further, bringing above the surface of the water four more decks. Once the refloating is complete, the wreck will be towed over a period of five days to the port of Genoa where it will be scrapped. The entire salvage operation is being paid for by the shipowner. Again, CEO Michael Thamm.

THAMM: The total project costs have exceeded 1 billion euro already and will further go up because of the cost of this operation we are witnessing here has not included also the transport to Genoa and the demolition as well as the remediation of the site. So I believe we will end up in the region of 1.5 billion euro.

POGGIOLI: That's more than $2 billion. Ever since the ship rammed into a reef 30 months ago, one of the biggest concerns has been the possible damage to the surroundings. Italian Environment Minister Gian Luca Galletti was on hand today to assure Giglio's residents that every step is being taken to protect the local flora and fauna.

GIAN LUCA GALLETTI: (Through translator) We are closely monitoring the waters around the Concordia. It will be constant not only during the re-floating stage, but also during the entire towing stage. And we will continue for another five years in the area where the Concordia is today to study the impact of the wreck on that section of the sea.

POGGIOLI: Once the Costa Concordia has been towed away, the search will continue for the last person not accounted for, Indian waiter Russell Rebello. Sylvia Poggioli, NPR News, Island of Giglio.

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