MIAMI — All the superlatives apply to the marine salvage operation about to unfold off the Italian island of Giglio: largest, most expensive, most complicated. And first of its kind.
In an unprecedented feat of engineering that could make history or fail catastrophically, teams will begin Monday morning to hoist the wrecked Costa Concordia, which has been resting on its side atop two rocks near an ocean cliff for the last 20 months. The project's anticipated price tag: nearly $800 million dollars.
Called "parbuckling," the job involves a complicated system of 56 enormous cables, 58 pulling machines, 11 multistory flotation tanks, six undersea platforms and 1,180 grout bags full of cement. Weather permitting, the process is scheduled to begin at first light on Monday in Italy, or roughly 1 a.m. Eastern time — 16 months after the initial work at the site began, and 20 months after the shipwreck in which 32 people died.
"If it doesn't work, then I don't think anybody can say it's because we did this wrong or that wrong," said Mark Hoddinott, general manager of the London-based International Salvage Union. "They've done everything right. Now they're going into this area where this has never been done with a ship this size before."
While the action will take place some 5,000 miles from Florida, the state's ties are strong: Carnival Corp., with headquarters in Doral, owns Italian cruise operator Costa Cruises. And Titan Salvage, one of the two firms awarded the contract for the salvage job, is based in Pompano Beach. The company is working with Italian marine contractor Micoperi.