Costa Concordia Clear Of Pollution And Delicate Reefs

It's being called the largest maritime salvage operation ever. The 'rotation" of the wrecked Costa Concordia cruise liner to an upright position is under way off the west coast of Italy. The massive ship is now clear of the reef that had penetrated the hull. There are no pollutants escaping from the vessel. Fuel and other polluting agents had been removed. The process is going more slowly than predicted but engineers on site say it is going well. When the ship is upright, huge flotation tanks on the port and starboard sides will be activated and it will be towed to a scrap yard. Thirty two people died when the ship ran aground twenty months ago. Two are still missing.

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AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

It's being called the largest marine salvage operation ever. Off the coast of west Italy, engineers are attempting to rotate the wrecked Costa Concordia cruise liner to an upright position. The massive ship is now clear of the reef that had penetrated the hull. And apparently, no pollutants are spilling from the ship.

NPR's Sylvia Poggioli joins us now from the island of Giglio. And, Sylvia, describe where you are now and whether there's been any visible progress toward riding the ship.

SYLVIA POGGIOLI, BYLINE: Well, I'm now sitting in a hotel with a panoramic view of the Costa Concordia about 300 yards away. This is where the media filing center has been set up. What we have seen over the course of - now we have reached beyond the 12th hour. Originally, the operation, we were told, is going to last 10 to 12, but it's taking much longer. I think it's because they're taking it very slowly. It apparently didn't move at all in the first couple of hours, and so the engineers had to sort of change their assessment.

But on the whole, it seems it's going very well. We see the progress because we see the sludge line that had been under water. Now we've seen it emerge. It's hard for me to measure exactly what it is, but it is taking longer than we had expected. It's nighttime now, and we were told it'll certainly last probably till dawn.

CORNISH: Do you have any sense from the engineers who are running this operation how they think it's going, what obstacles they're facing?

POGGIOLI: Well, many obstacles and none of them are hiding. You know, many things could go wrong still, although the first couple of hours were really the crucial ones because there was fear that the - that it would be impossible to disengage - dislodge the hull from the reef that was penetrating up to 30 feet. But finally, they - we were told that happened, that went well, and the engineers are very happy.

They say things are going, up to now, completely in sync with their calculations. You know, there was no computer model for this. (Unintelligible) never been happened. There's no plan B. So they say that whatever happens, they are reassessing as they go along moment by moment.

CORNISH: Sylvia, what, if any, signs have there been of remains? I know that there were two people still missing from the wreck 20 months ago.

POGGIOLI: There are no signs so far. The engineers and the officials here have said that as soon as the ship is back in a vertical position, then rescue divers will be sent in to see if they can find the bodies of the two missing people, an Italian woman and an Indian man believed to be underneath the hull.

CORNISH: And what will happen to the ship once it is righted?

POGGIOLI: Then they will assess the damage on the side that is finally going to be reemerged, which is apparently quite damaged. And once that's fixed - and that'll take several months - floatation tanks will be positioned on that side, as they are now on the other - on the exposed side. And they will then act as floatation, buoyancy tanks, and the ship is to be towed away to a port where it will be dismantled.

CORNISH: That's NPR's Sylvia Poggioli. She's speaking with us from the island of Giglio. Sylvia, thank you.

POGGIOLI: Thank you, Audie.

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