Costa Concordia salvage operation under way

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A complex system of pulleys and counterweights began lifting the Costa Concordia cruise ship today from its side on the Tuscan reef where it capsized in 2012.

The anxiously awaited operation has never been attempted before on such a huge liner, according to the Associated Press. At 114,000 tons, the vessel is twice the size of the Titanic, National Public Radio reported. It is the length of three football fields and as high as an 11-story building.

Twenty months ago, in January 2012, the Costa Concordia luxury liner smashed into a jagged reef, killing 32 people. Since then, the vessel has being lying on its side — an unsightly wreck visible for miles around.

The crippled vessel wouldn’t budge for about three hours after the operation began, engineer Sergio Girotto told the AP. But after 6,000 tons of force were applied “we saw the detachment” of the ship from the reef, using undersea cameras, Girotto said.

With the use of cranes and winches, giant steel chains — each link weighing about 750 pounds — have been looped under the vessel to help pull it upright. The operation, known as parbuckling, was expected to take 10 to 12 hours, with the initial hours winching the ship off the reef imperceptible to the unaided eye. The goal is to raise it from its side by 65 degrees to vertical, as a ship would normally be, for eventual towing.

With the ship chained to the mainland on one side and to steel pylons on the other, dozens of pulleys will slowly pull and rotate the ship upright at a rate of about 9 feet an hour, NPR reported.

"Before you rotate the patient you want to support the neck, so this is going to support her bow as we roll her over," Nick Sloane, the South African salvage master in charge of the Costa Concordia removal operation, told NPR. "That will reduce all the impacts on her spinal structure members, and that is going to save the bow during the parbuckle operation."

Girotto told the AP that the cameras did not immediately reveal any sign of two bodies that were not recovered from among the 32 people who died during the disaster. The ship’s captain, Capt. Francesco Schettino, is still undergoing trial on manslaughter charges.

Click here for the full report and live stream of the salvage effort.

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