Member’s lunch – 5th April 2017

At our April Lunch meeting held at the Chalk Lane Hotel the after lunch talk was given by Tom Allen on the disaster of the sinking of the cruise ship Costa Concordia and her eventual refloating to be taken away for scrap.

He told us that on this her final voyage, the Costa Concordia had sailed from Civitavecchia, the port of Rome on Friday, January 13th 2012,  It was only a little over two hours before disaster struck. Captain Francesco Schettino came to the Bridge and ordered a change of course from that laid down by the operating company.  This took the ship close to Isola del Giglio. Having gone passed the island he then took the ship about and made a second pass when disaster struck.

Captain Schettino stated that, before approaching the island, he turned off the alarm system for the ship’s computer navigation system. “I was navigating by sight, because I knew those seabeds well. I had done this move three or four times before.” He told investigators that he saw waves breaking on the reef and turned abruptly, swinging the side of the hull into the reef.. I have to take responsibility for the fact that I made a judgment error.” “This time I ordered the turn too late.”  The captain initially stated that the ship was about 300 metres from the shore (about the length of the vessel) and hit an uncharted rock. However, the ship’s first officer, Ciro Ambrosio, told investigators that Schettino had left his reading glasses in his cabin and repeatedly asked Ambrosio to check the radar for him.

The Captain said that Costa Cruises managers told him to perform a sail-past salute on 13 January 2012. Previously, on 14 August 2011, the ship took a similar sail-past route, but not as close to Le Scole.  The 14 August 2011 sail-past was approved by Costa Cruises and was done in daylight during an island festival.   The normal shipping route passes about 8 km offshore.

On that fateful day at 21:45, in calm seas and overcast weather, Costa Concordia struck a rock in the Tyrrhenian Sea just off the eastern shore of the western coast of Italy about 100 km (62 mi) northwest of Rome.  This tore open a 50 m (160 ft) gash on the port side of her hull, which soon flooded parts of the engine room resulting in power losses, leading to a loss of propulsion and loss of electrical systems, which crippled the ship. With water flooding in and the ship listing, she drifted back to Giglio Island where she grounded 500 m north of the village of Giglio Porto, resting on her starboard side in shallow waters with most of her starboard side under water.

Despite the gradual sinking of the ship, its complete loss of power, and its proximity to shore in calm seas, an order to abandon ship was not issued until over an hour after the initial impact. Although international maritime law requires all passengers to be evacuated within 30 minutes of an order to abandon ship, the evacuation of Costa Concordia took over six hours.  One of the problems of this tragedy was that the passengers had not been through the drill of finding their life boat stations before the ship left harbour; as the practice on this ship was to do this drill on the first morning out at sea. This has now been changed and all ships must carry out a lifeboat drill before leaving harbour.  Of the 3229 passengers and 1023 crew only 32 lives were lost.  Two bodies were not found until the ship had been raised from the sea bed.

With the ship lying at such an angle not all the lifeboats could be lowered, but those that could were lowered into the sea, however many craft came out from the shore to help carry out the rescue. While some survivors made their way down the ships side and jumped into the water and swam ashore.

There were immediate fears of an ecological disaster, but all the fuel was extracted by 24 March 2012, without any significant leak. This was achieved by drilling a hole into the ship’s hull and extracting the oil out onto barges.

Costa Concordia was officially declared a “constructive total loss” by the insurance company, and her salvage was “one of the biggest maritime salvage operations ever held”.  On 16 September 2013, the par buckle salvage of the ship began.

The operation to right the ship and free her from the rocks began on 16 September 2013, but started late due to bad weather.   The par buckle operation was made by first carrying out preparatory work consisting of building an underwater metal platform and artificial seabed made of sand and cement on the downhill side of the wreck and welding sponsons (in this case metal tanks) to the side of the ship above the surface of the water.   Once this was completed, cables were passed under the ship and fed through strand jacks and the cable ends anchored firmly on the island side. Strand jacks are hydraulic jacks that draw the cable through them in sections at a time.

The other ends of the cables were securely attached to the top side of the sponsons thus creating a cantilever effect giving mechanical advantage to the pull.  Once the ship had been rotated slightly past a critical angle of 24° from its resting position, valves on the sponsons were opened to allow seawater to flood into them and the increasing weight of the water in the sponsons completed the rolling of the ship to the upright position at an accelerated pace, without further need of the strand jacks and cables.  During the par buckle operation water was either fed into or let out of the sponsons to further assist in the righting of the ship and to prevent it going over too far.  At the right time in the course of the lift additional sponsons were then attached to the other side of the ship.

The ship was returned to a fully upright position and settled on the cradle in the early hours of 17 September 2013, shortly before 3 a.m. Local time.

As of 16 September 2013 the salvage operation had cost over €600 million ($800 million). The final cost of the salvage came to be $1.2 billion (ref. Nova, “Sunken Ship Rescue” PBS).

In June 2012, a barge was put in place, and the removal of her radar, waterslide and funnel began to stabilise the ship and to prevent further slippage down the sloped seabed.

In July 2014, the ship was refloated by the caissons (metal floatation tanks) attached to its sides and was towed 320 kilometres to its home port of Genoa.  Where it has been ever since and still is being cut up for scrap.

The total cost of the disaster, including victims’ compensation, refloating, towing and scrapping costs, is estimated to be around $2 billion, more than three times the $612 million construction cost of the shipM<ember’s lunch – 5th April 2017

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