ROME — Engineers refloated the deformed hull of the cruise liner Costa Concordia on Monday, in preparation for its final removal from the Tuscan island where it ran aground 30 months ago, taking 32 lives.
Authorities said the ship was afloat for the first time since it hit a reef and capsized in early 2012. Italian authorities blocked the waters and air space around the island of Giglio, to ensure safety and prevent interference in the refloating operation.
In the first hours of the operation, the wreck was lifted by about 7 feet using a pneumatic system, detaching the hull from a platform nearly 100 feet underwater. The ship has been resting there since last September, when engineers managed to right the ship in a spectacular 19-hour long operation.
Nick Sloane, the senior salvage master for Titan Salvage, the US company in charge of the operation, said Monday that he was relieved the weather cooperated after a night of light rain.
Over the past few months, workers fitted 30 huge steel stabilizing containers known as sponsons on both sides of the Concordia to function as floats. As pneumatic devices gradually emptied the sponsons of water and filled them with air on both sides, the hull was lifted upward.
Crews plan to move the wreck 30 yards to the east. As the Concordia is anchored in the new location and balanced by three tugboats to keep it stable, the sponsons will be further secured with steel cables and chains to the vessel’s structure.
Over the next week, the same pneumatic system will raise the ship deck by deck, until only 50 feet of the wreck remains submerged.
At that point, the Costa Concordia should be ready to be towed away by tugboats — two at the bow and two at the stern — for the nearly 200 nautical miles that separate Giglio from the port of Genoa.
“This operation will end only after the ship has been transported to Genoa,” warned Gian Luca Galletti, Italy’s environment minister. “We can’t let our guard down.”
An Italian official said Sunday that once the ship is lifted, it will be thoroughly searched for the only unrecovered body of the 32 known fatalities in the shipwreck.
A criminal trial is expected to shed light on the cause of the accident.
In recent months, hundreds of witnesses have been giving testimony in court, where the captain, Francesco Schettino, is facing trial for multiple charges of manslaughter, causing a shipwreck, and abandoning the vessel before everyone had disembarked. A company official and four crew members have pleaded guilty to reduced sentences.