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Moving a Mountain

saster struck on the night of Friday January 13th, 2012 when the luxury line Costa Concordia smashed against an 80-ton rock that lay within a submerged reef off the Tuscan coast of Giglio. She was cursing from the port of Civtavecchio to Savona Italy a route that she had done many times before. All was well and passengers were enjoying the trip when without authorization from the Costa line, the captain changed the normal course in order to get closer to the island of Giglio. The vessel hit a giant rock that tore open its hull. Costa Concordia immediately started taking on water that soon shorted out the electrical system and caused the ship to list to one side then to port, then sink. Yet the passengers were not aware of what was happening. Experts believe that had the captain ordered the passengers to abandon ship and had he lowered the lifeboats immediately, it is estimated that there would have all been off in 30 minutes, well before the ship rolled over. His failure to do this caused 32 people to die horrible drowning deaths. The cause was proven to be the human error of the Captain Francesco Schettino who was sentenced to 16 years in prison for man slaughter by an Italian Maritime Court despite his claim that the helmsman was at fault. Miraculously, there were only 32 fatalities of the 4000 people on board the ship when it hit the 80 ton rock and eventually rolled over and sank. Life boats were trapped under the ship making it necessary for escaping passengers to crawl down the hull into rescue boats. A night of heroic rescues followed. Some survivors have written books about their experiences. Unlike maritime tradition, the Captain was one of the first to leave the ship until order back onboard by the Coast Guard. With all possible rescue completed, the process of containing the possible spills of pollution to the surrounding Giglio area were begun. Still the wreck had to be removed. But, it had never been done on a ship that is twice the size of the Titanic. What followed was perhaps the most incredible maritime engineering accomplishment in history. The 114,000 ton luxury liner Costa Concordia lay precariously on her side resting on anunderwater rock slope that was inclined at roughly a 25 degree angle. It was feared that the ship, battered by rough seas and high winds, could at any moment slide into deep water. An international engineering team was assembled to plan the recovery. A feat that had never been done before. The task was to refloat a the nearly 1000 foot (300 meters) long and badly damaged ship which was laying on its side, then tow it to a salvage yard where it would be reduced to scrap. In the process care had to be taken to keep the waters from being polluted by liquids that might leak form the ship. Consideration had to be taken to remove rotting food from the giant refrigerators as well. The job was awarded to the salvage the American-Italian team of Titan Salvage and Micoperi, who gave the job to an internationally known salvage expert, Nick Sloane from South Africa. Nick Sloane has, in his 34-year career, salvaged 80 ships. Sloane’s vast experience with vessels on fire, crippled cargo ships, sinking ships, capsized oil rigs and cargo recovery made him the ideal person to head up the team that would salvage Costa Concordia . He readily admits that he had never done this exactly kind of job before, then again no one had ever salvaged a ship of this size laying on its side on an underwater rock slope. In a process known as Parbuckling, the plan was to refloat the ship and tow it away. All this while respecting those dead who were trapped in and under the ship when it capsized. The job started with making it safe for people to work on the sunken ship. It was laying on a rock slope, so it had to be secured to prevent it from sliding into deep water. More than 2,380 tons of diesel fuel had to be pumped out while also protecting against any fuel spills. Next was to construct a giant steel cradle into which the ship could be allowed to rest once it was righted. Massive bags were placed under the hull on the starboard side, then filled with concrete. With the cradle secured to the ocean floor, cables were attached to the cradles then up the port side of the ship and connected to jacks. Sponsions or giant ballast tanks were attached to the port side while specially shaped blister tanks were attached to both side of the bow. Additional massive cables attached to power jacks on the sponsons were pulled to cause the ship to roll to port. In the time the ship lay on her side she had become sort of glued to the bottom. This required an initial breakaway pull of quite a bit much more than had been anticipated. Engineers were working without the benefit of having ever done a project of this magnitude. Slowly the ship rolled to port and settled onto the cradle. Once on the cradle, additional sponsons were attached to the starboard side. As the water was slowly pumped out of the sponsons, the ship was once again afloat raised up 46 feet. The water was pumped out slowly to allow one deck at a time to allow for the water on the deck just above the sea to empty. This was done to prevent the ship form becoming top heavy from water trapped on the deck and possibly causing it to roll over. With most of the ship above water and being supported by the 30 sponson tanks, she was ready for sea. The ship was now ready to be towed to the port of Pra’ Volti in Genoa where it would be dismantled piece by piece and the parts sold for scrap estimated to be worth 43 million dollars. Starting at the top, the thirteen decks were to be removed one by one. On the bridge of the Costa Concordia, Captain Nick Sloane the defecto captain of the ill-fated ship on her last voyages. He unlike the ship’s Captain Francesco Shettino, was the last man off the ship when she reached her final destination. The dismantling of the Costa Concordia was done by the “Ship Recycling Consortium” which is made of two Italian companies. After being partially disassembled at the seawall port of Pra’Voltir o July of 2014, the ship having been made lighter by 10, 000 tons and drawing less water and with the sponsons removed, will travel to “Molor Ex Superbanco “dock. The final dismantling will take place on Dry Dock #4. The job of getting the Costa Concordia off the rock slope involved 500 people from 26 different countries and took two and one-half years at a cost of well over a billion dollars. One diver died in an accident while recovering the ship. Once again the beaches and the views on the island of Giglio are back to normal. The wreck is gone, but the memory will last perhaps for as long as tourists visit the island. Maritime engineering history was made there when men moved the mountain of a ship weighing 114,000 tons.

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