Daily Archives: January 20, 2012

Salvaging the Costa Concordia: An Immense and Potentially Impossible Task

The wreck of the giant cruise liner Costa Concordia could be in danger of sinking deeper into the sea off of Giglio Island or even breaking up.  As of the moment the Italian authorities are still calling the operation a rescue operation but that could change to a salvage operation in the coming days.

The Salvaged Seawise Giant

Provided that the wreck stays intact and does not sink in deeper water the chance of salvaging the ship will be immense. It will not be an easy task.  Only one ship larger than Concordia has been salvaged, the massive oil tanker Seawise Giant which was sunk in very shallow water off of Kharg Island Iran during the Iran-Iraq war.  That ship was only salvageable because she was intact and in the placid shallow waters of the Persian Gulf.

Wreck of the ex SS Normandie

The other ships successfully salvaged and returned to service were the US Navy Battleships USS West Virginia and USS California which were sunk at Pearl Harbor.  Both ships had settled upright in the shallow and calm waters of Pearl Harbor.  The battleship Oklahoma which capsized was refloated but never returned to service.  Other large ships have been salvaged but not returned to service, the great French liner Normandie which burned and sank pier side in New York Harbor was raised but the damage caused by the fire made her not economical to put repair and put back into service.  The battleships and battle cruisers of the German High Seas Fleet were salvaged over a period of nearly 20 years following the “Great Scuttle” following the signing of the Treaty of Versailles in a remarkable operation at Scapa Flow.  Many were difficult to salvage and although all were scrapped  the fact that they were raised was engineering triumph.

Raising the USS Oklahoma

One thing that works against a successful salvage operation is the fact that she is on her side and perched atop a number of rocks fully exposed to wind and waves.  Ships, especially merchant ships which are more lightly built than the great battleships do not tend to hold up well when in such a position.  They tend to get battered and break up due to the great stress put on their hulls which they were not designed to endure.

Drawings of High Seas Fleet wrecks at Scapa Flow

Those trying to save the Costa Concordia will first need to ensure that she does not sink into deeper water or break up. If they can do that they will then need to remove her fuel and other hazardous materials.  Once that is completed the massive gash in the hull will need to be repaired and and the hull checked for other damage.  Then she will have to be successfully righted and pumped out. This will not be easy, every step will have to be carefully done to ensure that they salvers do not want her to sink again.  Working against them will be the forces of nature, wind, tides and waves.  These factors will complicate any salvage efforts and it is entirely possible that the wreck will need to be scrapped in place.

The immediate concern is the search for survivors and next the avoidance of an environmental disaster should the ships diesel fuel leak into the ocean and preventing the ship from sinking into deeper water or breaking up. Only then will it be possible to begin salvage operations.  From a technical perspective it is interesting to think about just how the massive ship will be raised.


Padre Steve+


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