It’s been 19 months since the Costa Concordia, one of the largest cruise liners ever built, ran aground off the west coast of Italy, killing 32 passengers and capsizing after granite rock tore a 50-meter hole in the ship’s hull.
But now the rotting 952-foot wreck is set to be raised from its partially-submerged resting place off the Tuscan island of Giglio in what engineers say is a risky and unprecedented operation.
The plan is to use cables attached to hydraulic pumps to rotate the ship upright — a process known as “parbuckling” — from the seabed onto a platform, which consists of a series of cement bags and huge under-water steel structure.
After repairs are made to the previously submerged side of the Concordia, giant steel “caissons,” or boxes, on the sides of the ship will be pumped full of air and the cruise liner will theoretically float to the surface and be towed to a nearby seaport — hopefully all in one piece.
Success is anything but guaranteed. Engineers say they only have one shot at parbuckling the ship — and any error during the hours-long process could see the ship break apart, or over-rotate off the underwater platforms and sink completely.
More than 500 people have been working around the clock on the rescue, which is being overseen by Florida-based Titan Salvage and the Italian firm Micoperi. The final bill will be at least $400 million, according to the salvage project’s website.
But the raising of the Concordia is far from the end of the story. The bodies of two passengers are still yet to be retrieved from the wreckage of the $570 million ship, which was carrying more than 4,200 passengers and crew when it struck the granite rocks off Giglio on January 13, 2012.
Even after the parbuckling and the repairs to the starboard side of the 114,500-ton vessel, the salvage crew will still have to wait for winter to pass before it can be towed to a nearby seaport to be taken apart.
It could also take years to fully restore Giglio’s pristine waters and marine life to their previous state. The island is part of the Tuscan Archipelago National Park, the largest protected marine area in the Mediterranean.
Five members of the Concordia’s staff were sentenced in July to short prison terms for their roles in the disaster.
Francesco Schettino, the ship’s captain, is being tried separately on charges of manslaughter, causing a maritime disaster and abandoning ship. His trial is set to resume in late September.
CNN’s Erin McLaughlin and CNN Wires contributed to this report.