Time is running short for the next act in the Costa Concordia saga.
Italian authorities have given the go-ahead for marine salvage companies to try to tip the massive ship up off its sloped resting spot and onto a platform shelf constructed on the seabed. Once vertical, workers will be able to weld caissons onto the starboard side that will be used to refloat the ship.
The tipping maneuver, called parbuckling, may be the trickiest part of the entire operation. And despite gaining approvals, the salvage companies may yet hold off on the operations.
Delays have been the rule rather than the exception in righting the Concordia. Initially the ship was to have been raised and towed away in January, a date that slipped to March and then to September.
Salvage leaders say they will probably only get one chance once they start the process of winching the ship upright. The ship is being raised by the U.S. company Titan Salvage and Micoperi of Italy. Once up and ready to be removed, it will be towed to the port of Piombino to be scrapped.
Already there is concern about Concordia’s starboard side, which has been under water for a year-and-a-half. It could buckle under the strain as the ship pivots upright.
However, leaving it lie on its side where it ran aground in January 2012 risks further deterioration, as the weight of the ship presses down on structures that weren’t designed for their current loads.
Salvage leader Nick Sloane said the ship has already compressed by about 10 feet since it came to rest on the granite outcrop off Giglio Island.
So the clock is ticking on the parbuckling operation, which is only the first stage of the removal process.
The current plan calls for the ship to remain on its platform over the winter while engineers ready it for refloat in the spring of 2014.
The cruise industry has an interesting in seeing the salvage of Concordia succeed without any further delay. Rightly or wrongly, a procedure that doesn’t go as planned, or one that creates environmental damage, will only create further undesirable associations for cruising in the public mind.