More than 20 months after it capsized in shallow waters off the coast of Italy, the Costa Concordia cruise ship is finally set to be righted Monday in a massive, risky operation set to last 12 hours.
Since captain Francesco Schettino ran the ship aground Jan. 13, 2012, off the island of Giglio, killing 32 people, Italian officials have fretted over how to move the giant vessel.
Even just a few months ago, the plan seemed "crazy" -- and there was no "plan B" if it failed.
“It’s an operation that has never been attempted before,” said Franco Gabrielli, the head of Italy’s Civil Protection department, which deals with disasters. “The possibility of the ship breaking up into pieces is remote, according to our data and modeling.”
Still the process, using hydraulic jacks and steel cables, and ballasted by 11 huge steel boxes ready to be flooded with water to help with rotation, will put the 950-foot, 114,000-ton ship under massive stresses.
Engineers say they don't know how firmly the ship is wedged on the rocks, and how much force will be required to wrench it free. And once the process begins, they cannot stop and start over.
"Once you start lifting her off the reef you have already gone beyond the point of no return,” said Nick Sloane, the South African salvage master who is in charge of the operation.
An artificial seabed, made of six steel platforms and 1,200 sacks of cement, has been prepared to receive the ship as it comes upright.
“To envision, plan and then implement a project involving 30,000 tons of steel in 14 months is extraordinary," said Sergio Girotto, a senior engineer from Micoperi, the Italian salvage company which together with an American firm, Titan, is leading the operation. "We’ve overcome many difficulties, let’s hope we’re successful."
In addition to raising the ship -- which will be towed away and broken up for scrap after the winter -- officials hope to discover the remains of the two people whose bodies were never found after the accident.