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Raising the Costa Concordia, the biggest sea salvage operation ever (+video)

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It was initially hoped that the Concordia could be refloated and towed away to be dismantled in January. But Capt. Nick Sloane, a South African who is in charge of the operation to refloat the wreck, said there was so much work still to do that June was more likely.

If the coming winter is severe, with rough seas and high winds, the schedule could slip further, affecting Giglio’s lucrative summer tourist season.

“The initial timeline has been blown out of the water,” Captain Sloane said aboard a British-crewed tug boat, which provided an up-close view of the rusted, stricken cruise ship.

'No small feat'

The granite rock on which the Concordia rests was proving very hard to drill, said Sloane. His men have started drilling 26 holes in the rock, in which to place massive, 6-foot-wide pillars which will support six platforms covering an area the size of a football field. The platforms will support the ship as it is slowly hauled upright.

The ship will be refloated with the aid of 15 enormous, hollow compartments – known as "sponsons" – which will be bolted onto its port, seaward-facing side.

“The biggest are 32 meters high, which is the height of an 11-story building,” said Sloane. “They weigh 500 tons, and to get them lined up exactly so that we can weld them on is no small feat."

"This is an unprecedented operation. It’s the biggest ship recovery operation ever, by quite some margin.”

Cables will be fixed to the sponsons and then attached to the artificial platform beneath the ship.

The cables will be slowly tightened along the length of the ship in a technique known as “parbuckling,” rolling the ship seaward into an upright position. The sponsons will also be filled with sea water, further helping to drag the liner upright.

When it is upright, another 15 sponsons will then be welded to the starboard, landward side of the ship, balancing the port sponsons.

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