Capsized ship wrested off Italian reef
GIGLIO ISLAND, Italy — Using a vast system of steel cables and pulleys, maritime engineers on Monday gingerly winched the 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.
But the timetable 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 gash, and eventually capsized a few hundred 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,” said Gabrielli, chief of Italy's Civil Protection Agency.