Sometimes the impossible is actually possible.  Salvage crews completed setting the wreck of the Costa Concordia upright early Tuesday after a 19-hour-long operation off the Italian island of Giglio, where the huge cruise liner capsized 20 months ago.  The ocean liner hit a rock when it maneuvered too close to the island, prompting a chaotic evacuation of more than 4,000 passengers and crew.

Perhaps the most complex and expensive maritime salvage operation ever attempted saw the 114,500-ton ship pulled upright by a series of huge jacks and cables and set on artificial platforms drilled into the rocky sea bed.  The operation was completed at around 4 a.m. local time (10 p.m ET) without any significant problems.

“The ship has been settled onto its platforms,” Franco Gabrielli, the head of Italy’s Civil Protection Authority, told reporters and a group of cheering residents who waited up into the early hours of the morning to hear the news. “We have accomplished an important step toward removing the ship from the island.

The Costa Concordia, carrying more than 4,200 passengers, ran aground Jan. 13, 2012, off the coast of Italy.  As one survivor has renamed it as, “a monument of stupidity” that resulted in the death of 32 people.

After a salvage operation estimated to have cost more than 600 million euros ($800 million), the hulk will remain in place for months more while it is stabilized and refloated before being towed away to be broken up for scrap.

The so-called par buckling operation, in which the ship was painstakingly rotated upright, took longer than the 10-12 hours initially estimated, but engineers said the project had gone exceptionally smoothly.

Engineers were finally successful on Monday in shifting the hull of the Costa Concordia ocean liner from the Italian reef.  The daring attempt to pull the shipwrecked ocean liner upright began early Monday.  Thunderstorms and lightning delayed the start of the operation by two hours, but at around 9 a.m. local time (3 a.m. ET) Italian officials gave the all clear for the 500-strong team of engineers to begin moving the giant vessel.

Engineers applied some 6,000 tons of force using a system of pulleys and counterweights, and at around midday local time, underwater cameras recorded water swirling around, where the metal hull rested on the seabed.

During the salvage operation nothing revealed any sign of the two people who were not recovered among those killed during the initial accident.  Salvage workers will continue to look for the bodies of the two missing people, an Italian and an Indian unaccounted for since the disaster, with underwater cameras combing the seabed.

Officials stressed that no appreciable pollution has spewed out of the vessel, where vast stocks of food and drink have sat untouched for almost two years.

Captain Francesco Schettino has been charged with multiple counts of manslaughter and causing the wreck.  He is currently awaiting trial.  Five others, including two bridge officers and the ship’s hotel director, pled guilty to manslaughter and negligence in July.

 

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