Engineers in Italy
say they have successfully righted the wrecked Costa Concordia
cruise ship after a marathon operation that lasted around 19 hours and proved a nailbiting wait for those involved in the world's most expensive salvage plan.
At a 4am press briefing in Giglio, with the re-emerged hull looming large over the port, Italy's civil protection agency chief, Franco Gabrielli, was applauded by firefighters as he announced that the ship's rotation had reached 65 degrees, meaning the operation known as parbuckling was finally complete.
Franco Porcellacchia, a representative of the ship's owners, Costa Crociere, said: "We completed the parbuckling operation a few minutes ago the way we thought it would happen and the way we hoped it would happen."
Porcellacchia said it had been "a perfect operation" with no environmentally damaging spill detected so far.
A later statement from the project engineers said the wreck was "resting safely" on six platforms that have been built 30 metres below sea level. It will remain there throughout the winter while the salvage operation continues.
The island was notified of the news – a landmark feat of engineering and big step towards the removal of the Concordia from Tuscan waters in one piece – by a foghorn that sounded shortly after 4am and was heard across the port and beyond.
The 114,000-tonne ship ran aground off the shore of Giglio on 13 January 2012. Thousands of passengers and crew made it to land safely but 32 people died, including a five-year-old girl.
The bodies of two people – Maria Grazia Trecarichi, a Sicilian passenger, and Russel Rebello, an Indian waiter – have never been found. Their recovery was a priority of the parbuckling but engineers have not yet seen any sign of their remains in the wreck.
Gabrielli told journalists there was still "a lot of work to do" given that the ship remained off the coast.
In the coming months the team carrying out the salvage operation – Titan Salvage from the United States and the Italian engineering company Micoperi – will have to examine quite how damaged the starboard side of the ship is in order to decide how to proceed.
Porcellacchia said that part of the hull looked "pretty bad", which might complicate the attachment of sponsons – large steel boxes – needed for the eventual refloating. That is due to take place sometime in 2014, after which point the Concordia will, at long last, leave Giglio's waters.
Parbuckling is a common means of righting wrecked ships but had never been carried out on a vessel of the Concordia's size. The operation was further complicated by the ship's position, resting on an underwater slope