Grim search for bodies on Costa Concordia begins
Salvage experts have begun work on stabilising the Costa Concordia to ensure the Italian authorities can enter the cruise ship to search for two bodies never recovered from the wreck.
Authorities also want to recover 1,500 safes from the ship's cabins so that they can return passengers' valuables, from jewellery and cash to now-ruined cameras and computers.
Jubilation greeted the raising of the Concordia yesterday, a year-and-a-half after it smashed into rocks off Giglio in a disaster that claimed the lives of 32 people. Boats involved in the 19-hour operation sounded their horns when the cruise liner finally jolted upright at 4am local time (2am GMT) and salvage crews celebrated with bottles of beer and shots of grappa once back on shore.
The Italian police also want to inspect the scum-coated interior of the giant vessel for evidence that could be used in the trial of Captain Francesco Schettino, who was in command when it capsized.
They are expected to focus in particular on the bridge and the engine room, amid claims from Captain Schettino that mechanical faults contributed to the capsize.
He is on trial for alleged manslaughter, causing a shipwreck and abandoning the ship, after sailing too close to Giglio in an apparent "salute" to the island. He denies the charges, with the next hearing in the trial scheduled for Monday.
Stabilising the ship should be completed "within the next few days", said Franco Porcellacchia, a senior engineer.
Until then, no one will be permitted to board the vessel. The biggest salvage of its kind in maritime history had been expected to take about 10 hours but in the end it took nearly double that to raise the 950ft ship with a complex system of steel cables, pylons and winches.
Nick Sloane, the South African salvage master in charge of the operation, admitted that it had been "a roller-coaster ride" with some "very tense" moments. Asked upon completion whether he was crying, the sandy-haired engineer, who has nearly 30 years' experience salvaging wrecked and sunken ships, smiled and said: "A bit of emotion is all right."
Mr Sloane said that 6,800 tons of pressure had to be applied to the capsized ship to pull it from the rocky shallows where it has rested since January 13 last year. "At the start it was very tense. We had got to 6,000 tons and she hadn't moved.
"People were nervous. We had to use 6,800 tons to get her off the rocks.
"That was the most crucial moment," he said. "My wife was texting me to say 'come on, what's taking so long?'"
The ship came to rest on six specially-constructed, underwater platforms made of steel.
It was a striking sight – while its port side was still a pristine white, its starboard side, which has been submerged for 20 months, was coated in a dirty brown scum, giving the vessel a surreal, half-and-half appearance.
Experts will have to attach huge, hollow steel boxes on the battered starboard side, which will add buoyancy and enable the ship to eventually float free and be towed off to an Italian port to be dismantled next year. (©Daily Telegraph, London)