Costa Concordia: oil salvage operation under way
An operation to pump more than half a million gallons of oil out of the crippled Costa Concordia cruise ship is finally under way, more than 10 days after the liner ran aground.
A barge loaded with drills, pipes and other heavy equipment moved out of the tiny harbour on Giglio island and moored alongside the 1,000ft longship, which lies in about 60ft of water.
On board were salvage specialists and engineers from Smit, a Dutch firm best known for raising the wreck of the Kursk Russian nuclear submarine.
The Russian nuclear submarine sank, with the loss of its 118 crew, in August 2000 after an explosion in its bow section.
It went down around 90 miles off Murmansk in northern Russia and sank to a depth of 108 metres.
Smit was involved in an international team that raised the 9,000 tonne sub from the seabed.
The five-month operation set a new world record for the heaviest object recovered from such depths.
The bow section, which suffered massive damage from the explosion, was sliced off with a giant wire saw and left on the seabed.
The company's divers will conduct an inspection of the stricken ship's hull – a task which is expected to take one or two days.
The Rotterdam-based firm says it hopes to start pumping out the 2,400 tonnes of fuel by the weekend.
It will take four to six weeks to safely empty the ship's massive fuel tanks, a company representative said as he watched the barge head towards the Costa Concordia – a distance of just a few hundred yards.
The gleaming white wreck of the 114,500-tonne, 17-deck luxury liner is clearly visible from Giglio's port and lies just yards from its rocky shore.
Smit has a team of 40 men on the island and faces a race against time to avert an environmental disaster before bad weather starts to close in.
They will drill holes in the hull of the liner and use huge pumps and pipes to suck the fuel out. It will then be siphoned into a large tanker.
The Concordia rammed into rocks off Giglio on the night of Jan 13 when its captain apparently misjudged a 'salute' to the island.
Capt Francesco Schettino is under house arrest at his house in Meta di Sorrento near Naples and faces charges of abandoning ship, causing a shipwreck and multiple counts of manslaughter.
The death toll from the disaster reached 15, after two more bodies were recovered by divers on Monday.
Around 20 people are still missing, including Americans, French and Italians.
Navy and coast guard divers and rescue specialists from the Italian fire service face a range of dangers when they work on the ship, both underwater and in the non-submerged sections.
The risks involved were underlined when a fireman working on the hull broke his leg and had to be evacuated to Grosseto hospital in Tuscany on Monday.