GIGLIO ISLAND, Italy — Using a vast system of steel cables and pulleys, maritime engineers on Monday gingerly winched the massive hull of the Costa Concordia off the reef where the cruise ship capsized near an Italian island in January 2012 and were poised to set it upright in the middle of the night.
After 15 hours of slower-than-expected progress in pulling the heavily listing luxury liner to an upright position, engineers said they finally hit the tipping point they eagerly were awaiting.
Shortly before midnight, the Concordia was raised by 25 degrees — after that, engineers said, the effect of gravity started giving the rotation a boost.
Then engineers quit operating the pulleys, and by using remote controls, carefully began opening valves to let seawater start filling huge ballast tanks that had been welded onto the already exposed side. The weight of the water in the tanks helped pull the cruise liner up much faster.
‘’We’re in the final phase of rotation,” said Franco Gabrielli, the Italian government official who is overseeing the operation. ‘’We have passed the 24 degree mark and now are filling the tanks with water,” he told journalists early Tuesday.
Originally, engineers had been confident complete rotation might take as little as 10 hours, and be reached by early evening Monday.
But the timetable quickly went off plan.
First, an unpredicted early morning thunderstorm pushed back the start time. Then the wreck resisted for three hours before it allowed itself to be wrested off the jagged rocks that were embedded into one side of the hull after the Concordia had hit another reef close to Giglio Island’s coastline, took on water through a 70-meter-long (76-yard-long) gash, and eventually capsized a few hundred meters (yards) away onto another reef.
There it lay on its side until Monday’s daring engineering operation pulled it free.
“Things are going like they should, but on a timetable that is dragging out,” Gabrielli chief of Italy’s Civil Protection Agency, said earlier on Monday.
Never before has such an enormous cruise ship been righted. Salvage workers struggled to overcome obstacle after obstacle as they slowly inched toward their goal of raising the crippled ship 65 degrees to the upright position.
At one point, some of the cables dragging the ship’s hull upright went slack, forcing engineers to climb the hull to fix them.
The Concordia itself didn’t budge for the first three hours after the operation began, engineer Sergio Girotto told reporters.
The initial operation to lift the ship moved it just 3 degrees toward vertical. After 10 hours, the crippled ship had edged upward by just under 13 degrees, a fraction of what had been expected.
After some 6,000 tons of force were applied — using a complex system of pulleys and counterweights — Girotto said “we saw the detachment” of the ship’s hull from the reef thanks to undersea cameras.
At the waterline, a few feet of slime-covered ship that had been underwater slowly became visible, the first clear sign to spectators on land that the rotation strategy was working.
Thirty-two people died on Jan. 13, 2012, when the Concordia slammed into a reef and toppled half-submerged on its side after coming too close to Giglio Island. T
The listing of the liner was so drastic that many lifeboats couldn’t be launched. Dozens of the 4,200 passengers and crew were plucked to safety by helicopters or jumped into the sea and swam to shore. The bodies of many of the dead were retrieved inside the ship.
Officials said the underwater cameras did not immediately reveal any sign of the two bodies that were never recovered.
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