Costa Concordia Pulled Upright in Salvage Effort

PHOTO: The Costa Concordia is seen after it was lifted upright, on the Tuscan Island of Giglio, Italy, early Tuesday morning, Sept. 17, 2013.
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The wreckage of the Costa Concordia cruise liner has been pulled upright after a 19-hour, first-of-its-kind engineering feat to salvage the ship that slammed into a reef near Giglio Island 20 months ago.

''The parbuckling operation has been successfully completed," the project's organizers said in a statement early this morning. " The wreck is now upright and resting safely on the specially built artificial sea bed, at a depth of approximately 30 meters."

The daring operation to right the Concordia began early Monday morning off the coast of Tuscany and had been expected to take no more than 12 hours. The operation continued an additional seven hours and dragged into this morning after a fierce thunderstorm and some initial delays with the vast system of steel cables, pulleys and counterweights.

Twenty-two hydraulic pumps were also used to force the ship to an upright position. The Concordia is now resting on six underwater platforms made of steel. It will eventually be towed back to shore and broken apart for scrap.

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Celebrations rang out as the most complicated salvage operation in maritime history is now 80 percent complete.

"Brilliant! Perfetto," Nick Sloan, the engineer and salvage master who is leading the effort, said. "It was a struggle, a bit of a roller coaster. But for the whole team it was fantastic."

The Costa Concordia struck a reef near Giglio Island Jan. 13, 2012, killing 32 of the 4,200 passengers and crew members. The bodies of a passenger and waiter on board have not been recovered.

Never before had engineers tried to lift such a large vessel so close to land. Leading up to the start of the operation, engineers said they had only one opportunity to right the ship, which weighs more than 100,000 tons and is larger than the Titanic. Engineers knew of the long list of problems if they failed or if the ship broke apart during the process.

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Retrieving the Concordia is the most expensive maritime salvage procedure with the estimated cost of about $800 million. But engineers said this was the time for the ambitious operation because the Costa Concordia would not have lasted another winter stuck on the reef.

Engineer Sloan said an initial inspection of the starboard side, covered in brown slime from its 20 months underwater while the ship was stuck on a rocky seabed perch, indicated serious damage that must be fixed in the coming weeks and months. The damage he said was caused by both the capsizing and the operation to rotate the ship.

"We have to do a really detailed inspection of the damage," he said. "She was strong enough to come up like this, she's strong enough to be towed."

Experts will be working for weeks now to patch up the starboard side of the vessel and make sure it is stable before they can begin to tow it away sometime next year.

Work crews will eventually return the personal belongings that were left on the ship by passengers who fled the sinking vessel on that harrowing night.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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