Daybreak Tuesday morning would mark the first time the starboard side of the Costa Concordia would see sunlight in 20 months after engineers successfully completed an unprecedented operation that righted the cruise ship which ran aground off the coast of Italy.
"I am relieved and I am a bit tired," chief salvage master Nick Sloane told News 24 after commanding the one-shot, 19-hour operation which required rotating the ship – twice the size of the Titanic at 114,000 tons – upright without breaking it open. Engineers expect the ship to be refloated and ready to be towed away by mid-2014.
Footage from divers' first look beneath the shipwrecked starboard side shows deck chairs and other items littered across the seabed, tangled in seaweed. Costa Cruises, the company that owns the ship, has promised the return of any belongings found inside individual cabins to passengers.
Mud stains and rust marked the side of the ship that hadn't seen the light of day since the ship struck a reef as it sailed in shallow waters near Tuscany during its final voyage in the Mediterranean Sea on Jan. 13, 2012. The incident resulted in 32 deaths among the 4,200 crew members and passengers on board. Two bodies remain missing.
"We are going to look for these people as soon as possible," Italy's civil protection commissioner Franco Gabrielli said at a press conference Tuesday morning. "I hope this will start in the next few days."
The ship's captain, Francesco Schettino, is currently on trial in Italy for abandoning ship and manslaughter, and is expected back in court on Sept. 23. Five Costa Cruises employees were convicted of multiple manslaughter and negligence charges in July.