RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:
Off the coast of the Italian island of Giglio a veritable army of salvage workers appear to have successfully pulled upright the Costa Concordia luxury liner. It was a dramatic scene early last year when the Concordia capsized. It been lying on its side in shallow water ever since. Thirty-two people died in that shipwreck and the captain faces manslaughter charges.
The luxury liner is almost as long a three football fields and removing it could eventually cost more than $1 billion dollars. NPR's Sylvia Poggioli has been watching this operation since dawn yesterday and joins us. Good morning.
SYLVIA POGGIOLI, BYLINE: Good morning.
MONTAGNE: So they have succeeded in righting the ship. What have you heard from the salvage team?
POGGIOLI: Well, they were understandably very satisfied and proud of their work. They said that the ship now rests on the giant steel platforms they had built exactly as had been calculated by the team of engineers. The rotation movement synched with an extraordinary precision, they said. It's an awesome sight. I'm looking at the bow right now and I can see clearly the rusted slime line that used to be at water lever.
It was almost flat on its side and in the 19 hour par buckling operation - that's the nautical term for this - it was raised 65 degrees to bring it vertical. The first 20 degrees took some 15 hours and were achieved by a complicated system of pulleys and cables at a rate of three feet per hour. The second phase, the 40 degrees, went much faster because it was achieved by pumping water into the floatation tanks positioned on the exposed flank of the ship. And that's where gravity took over.
MONTAGNE: And obviously it's huge but what all made this such a difficult and even risky venture?
POGGIOLI: Well, first of all, the location - the sloping, ragged reef on which the ship was lying; the huge size of the vessel, 114,000 tons; and the very delicate environment. First of all, the ship was jammed on the rocks. It wasn't guaranteed that it would pry loose. It could've gotten stuck and wrench apart from the start. Then there's the environment. We're in the Tuscan marine sanctuary, the biggest in Europe.
It's a haven for several endangered Mediterranean flora and fauna. The engineers say that the protection of the environment was always the number one priority. During the entire period since the shipwreck, 20 months ago, tests of the waters have been taken constantly, some 40,000 tests. The results have been published on state agency websites and amazingly, and against predictions, the engineers say none of the polluted water still inside spilled out during the rotation, as had been expected.
MONTAGNE: And we're seeing pictures of some extensive damage on the starboard side, the side that's been on the rocks. What does it look like to you right there?
POGGIOLI: It looks bad. It's very bad. It's crushed by the ship's own weight. Although the head of Italy's Civil Protection Agency, Franco Gabriele, said that the damage is not as much as they feared. The salvage team now has to assess how to repair it in order to be able to position flotation tanks, symmetrical to those on the left side, which will be used to refloat the ship and tow it away next spring.
MONTAGNE: And what happens next, before that happens?
POGGIOLI: Well, it has to be stabilized. Then, since it's a crime scene, police investigators will authorize the salvage crew to enter inside. They have never entered the ship itself up to now. And among other things, they will open the safe in the cabins and return personal belongings to the passengers. And very soon divers will begin looking for the bodies of the two people who are still missing.
MONTAGNE: That's NPR's Sylvia Poggioli speaking to us from the island of Giglio where they've just righted the luxury liner Costa Concordia off the Italian coast. Thanks very much.
POGGIOLI: Thank you, Renee.
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