GIGLIO, Italy — After a costly, painstaking, and potentially perilous operation to raise the battered hull of the cruise ship Costa Concordia, engineers said early Tuesday they had succeeded in righting the ship, removing it from two granite reefs where it ran aground last year, killing 32 people.
The 19-hour, highly complicated salvage operation had managed to completely rotate the ship, leaning it on an underwater platform built underneath, the engineers said.
“This was an important, visible step,” Franco Gabrielli, head of Italy’s Civil Protection Agency, told reporters at 4 a.m., accompanied by applause from a few residents who had stayed up all night to follow the operation.
“The rotation happened in the way we thought and hoped it would happen,” echoed Franco Porcellacchia, project manager for Costa Cruises, the ship’s operator. “There is no evidence so far of any impact to the environment. If there are debris to be removed, we will do it tomorrow.”
As parts of the vessel emerged in the later afternoon on Monday, discolored and rusting, from the waters where it has listed on its side, engineers said the operation would probably take longer than initially planned.
Salvage experts have said the dimensions of the stricken 951-foot vessel made the operation unparalleled in the annals of marine salvage, as more than 500 divers, technicians, engineers, and biologists prepared the ship for what is known as “parbuckling” to bring it upright and minimize environmental risks to Giglio Island, a marine sanctuary.
Using huge jacks, cables, pulleys and specialized equipment, the salvage effort had been set to begin at first light, but a sudden storm prevented workers from moving a barge and rubber booms close to the ship.
Three hours after work started, engineers said the first phase of the operation — easing the vessel away from its rocky perch — had gone according to plan. “These hours were the most uncertain, as we could not establish how much the hull was wedged,” said Sergio Girotto, project manager with Micoperi, an underwater construction and offshore contractor. “Now we have to guide it into the desired position.”
Pressed down for months by water and the ship’s own weight, the hull showed “great deformations,” he said.
The next phase of the salvage, engineers said, involved settling the wreck on an artificial seabed made of bags of cement next to underwater steel platforms. If it all goes well, the ship will be towed away and broken up for scrap by spring.
The operation was shown live on television and the Internet. The Italian news media portrayed the salvage as a chance for Italy to revamp its image after the wreck, in which the captain fled the ship and the evacuation was chaotic.
The leading national daily, Corriere della Sera, called the shipwreck “a monument to human stupidity” and a “humiliation” for Italy. It said it hoped that the salvage effort would provide a “new and different story” for the country.
The ship’s captain, Francesco Schettino, is scheduled to go on trial this fall on charges of multiple manslaughter, causing a shipwreck, and abandoning the vessel before everyone was safe. He has denied wrongdoing. A company official and four crew members have already pleaded guilty to reduced charges.
Two bodies of the dead remain missing.
The cost of the salvage operation has increased to $799 million from $300 million and could rise further, according to Costa Cruises.
Most of the fuel was siphoned off within months of the wreck, but the vessel that once transported 4,229 people still contains chemicals and diesel fuel that could leak into the pristine waters for which Giglio is known.