The Costa Concordia salvage mission got underway Monday, as engineers began their final effort to raise the ship that has sat tilted in the Mediterranean sea for 20 months after running aground in 2012.
Engineers had already rotated the ship 10 degrees and completely detached it from the reef by 11 a.m. EST, senior engineer Sergio Girotto said at a press conference Monday.
In order to salvage the ship, engineers will use a process called parbuckling, where large metal structures – caissons – attached to the exposed side of the ship are filled with water to rotate the ship back to its upright position.
Weather conditions were expected to worsen later in the day, with heavy winds blowing in from the West, though Girotto noted that the winds' trajectory could be advantageous to the operation given the ship's position. Engineers are fully equipped to work 24 hours a day, even in "total darkness," he said.
CNN reported the operation is the largest maritime salvage mission ever. The 114,000-ton Costa Concordia — twice the size of the Titanic — is the largest ship to ever be parbuckled. Efforts to raise the ship so far have cost nearly $800 million.
However, the operation may become more costly if the ship breaks apart, spewing a slew of toxic chemicals and rotted food into the sea. More than 24,000 pounds of fish, 17,000 pounds of raw beef and nearly 11,000 eggs are just some of the spoiled items resting inside the upturned hull, reported The Telegraph. What's more, 65 gallons of paint and 10 gallons of insecticide are housed inside the ship.
"The removal of the products concerned form the wreck in situ would have brought more risks than benefits to the salvage operators. Therefore it was decided to wait until the wreck is upright again and then reassess the situation, Costa Cruises, the Italian cruise line that owns the ship, said in a statement.
Deputy civil protection chief Fabrizio Curcio said engineers have not experienced any leakage so far. The first phase of their salvage – constructing support platforms beneath the ship and attaching the caissons – would take another four-to-six hours to complete.
The Costa Concordia struck a reef during the tail end of its final Mediterranean voyage on Jan. 13, 2012, tearing a hole in its hull, capsizing one of the largest cruise liners in the world and killing 32 of more than 4,200 passengers and crew members. Its captain, Francesco Schettino, is being tried for manslaughter and abandoning ship in Italy and faces up to 20 years in prison if convicted.
Two bodies remain missing and are believed to be either trapped between the reef and the ship or lost somewhere in the hull. The project managers would not comment during the press conference if more bodies had been discovered.