Salvaging a disaster

2013-09-13 00:00

FROM today, the eyes of the world are on the raising of the Costa Concordia off Italyï¾’s Tuscan coast, the climax of the biggest marine salvage operation yet. The luxury cruise liner ran aground at the small island of Isole del Giglio on January?13, 2012.

The 114?000-ton ship, carrying 4?252 people, was on the first stage of a Mediterranean cruise when it hit a reef after the captain deviated from the official route. Thirty-two people were killed on the night of the disaster.

モWe were looking to do it mid-September,ヤ says salvage master Nick Sloane (52), the man in charge. モItメs been a case of weather permitting ラ we didnメt want to get involved with the Sirocco system. But conditions at this time of the year are pretty good.ヤ

Sloane, a member of Durbanï¾’s Royal Natal Yacht Club, is a veteran of many high-profile salvage operations. But his first experience of life afloat was sailing on Midmar Dam and in Durban harbour.

Born in Kitwe, Zambia, Sloane grew up in Bothaï¾’s Hill, where he attended Kearsney College.

Sloane did his national service from 1980 to 1983 in the Merchant Marine and subsequently joined the salvage division of Safmarine (Saftug), where he studied Nautical Science qualifying as a master mariner.

Heï¾’s since extended his studies, attending the executive management programme at the University of Cape Townï¾’s Graduate School of Business in 1999 and studying project management at Erasmus University in Holland.

The Costa Concordia salvage is his first project for Titan, the United States salvage company tasked with the removal of the ship. He has also worked for South African salvage companies Pentow Marine, Smit Salvage, Svitzer Salvage and Mammoet Salvage.

モMost of my knowledge has been derived from on-site learning,ヤ says Sloane, and this has seen him spend more time at sea than at home in Somerset West with his wife, Sandra, and their three children ラ 17-year-old twins Nicola and Johnathan, and 10-year-old daughter Julia-Raine.

モMy family have obviously had to do without me for a substantial time,ヤ says Sloane. モWhile on the present job, they have visited me in Giglio twice, where Julia celebrated both her ninth and 10th birthdays. They were able to see what we are trying to do here, which does help ラ but it cannot replace the time I am away from home.ヤ

Sloane first heard he had the job of heading the Costa Concordia project in May 2012, while he was busy in New Zealand salvaging the M.V. Rena, which had grounded on the Astrolabe Reef.

To raise the Costa Concordia, Sloane proposed using a parbuckling technique that involves attaching sponsons or flotation supports to the wreckï¾’s exposed port side prior to righting the ship. (See graphic.)

モThe location of the Concordia on the side of a mountain island ラ finely balanced on two reef outcrops ラ meant that the ship had to be stabilised, to prevent her slipping off the edge, into deeper water.ヤ

Once Sloane was given the go-ahead, he and his team had 12 weeks to submit over 200 documents to substantiate the parbuckle concept.

A survey of the Concordia was carried out and a 3D scan of the hull created via advanced digital underwater surveys.

モThis information ラ along with one of the worldメs most powerful Fem [Finite Element Analysis Model], with one million points of structural reference ムnodesメ ラ was compiled by a German company called Overdick. These results were then analysed and assumptions created for the further engineering of the project.ヤ

Sloane has tackled many wrecks, but this is the biggest he has been involved with モby a long wayヤ. It also threw up unique challenges, not least size.

モIt is the most engineered salvage recovery operation ever undertaken,ヤ he says. モThe large size of the Concordia ラ almost three football fields long and over 100?000 tons in weight ラ meant that the scale of all the components was outside of what had been achieved previously.

モThe fact that the underwater platforms designed to support the Concordia after parbuckling had to have two-metre diameter holes drilled to an accuracy of less than one percent, into the bedrock granite of a hardness of between 105 and 125?Mpa, creates a lot of challenges never achieved before, and caused substantial delays to the project, along with the winter weather.ヤ

All the components used in the parbuckling and refloat operation had to be モbespokeヤ.

モYou cannot buy them off the shelf and this has all been developed here specifically for this project.ヤ

Lying on her side, the Concordia casts a giant shadow, under which divers have to swim to create the モgroutヤ mattress in the valley between the two reefs.

モThis required over 100 divers a day to lay out grout bags and then pump almost 18?000 tons of the grout cement mixture into the grout bags ラ to support the Concordiaメs belly ラ through the parbuckling process.ヤ

The parbuckling technique itself is nothing new.

モParbuckling first came about in sailing ships,ヤ says Sloane, モwhen they had to parbuckle a ship off a reef or sandbank. The process has been used on many salvage operations. But to achieve what we are doing now on this scale would have been unthinkable, even 20 years ago ラ due to the lack of computer capacity for running the models, and adjusting the plan accordingly.ヤ

Sloane has only one shot at parbuckling the Costa Concordia and once the procedure is in progress, there is no going back.

モIf we let her fall back, it will create further damage. To obviate that, weメve got 100% reserves ラ 13?800?tons of weight pulling on the port side and 11?000?tons on starboard side. We donメt expect to use half of that.

モThe target is to have a smooth, steady parbuckle to minimise the forces on her hull through the rotation and parbuckling operation.ヤ

The odds on a successful outcome are good, according to Sloane.

モA year ago, I would have said there was a 60 to 40 percent chance of success, as we were still learning about the Concordia and her damaged condition. Now, with the information gained and all the mitigating factors that we have in place, and the results of the Fem analysis modelling, I would say we are well above 90% and looking towards a positive outcome.ヤ

モWe will start the pre-parbuckling sequence about 72 to 48 hours before the actual day. On the day, we shall start shortly after sunrise and hope to be completed mid to late afternoon ラ so around eight to 10 hours. It should be over by sunset.

モOf the 32 people who died when the Costa Concordia ran aground, two bodies are unaccounted for, but their whereabouts on the wreck are unknown. The priority after parbuckling shall be to investigate the Concordia further to see if they can be recovered,ヤ says Sloane. モThe missing two were seen on deck at the time of the wreck, but we are not sure if they went back to their cabins.ヤ

Once the parbuckle is over, plenty of work remains to be done.

モTo date, no one has seen the damage on the Concordiaメs lower starboard,ヤ says Sloane. モThe first thing, after the parbuckle, is to investigate this damage and then to refine the engineered plans for the re-float operation to allow for mitigation measures to be introduced where necessary.ヤ

Sloane admits the Costa Concordia presented him with a far bigger challenge than he initially realised.

モBut I have learnt a lot, too. The scale and the location of the casualty have meant that we needed to believe in the plan for over a two-year period, and to maintain focus and motivate the salvage teams, as we go through this roller coaster of a project.

モWe have over 20 nationalities on the project, so thereメs a diverse mixture of cultural backgrounds and values that we have to respect. We have to make sure we look at all the groupsメ needs to create the right motivation for each individual. Continuity is essential for all the phases, as we really need to live the situation, to monitor the vessel and to see how she reacts with what we are doing.ヤ

The large workforce involved, currently over 500 people, has also had a huge social impact on the island.

モBut the people have been really amazing in, firstly, tolerating us and then assisting us in our daily activities. Everyone wants a rapid and successful solution to the situation.ヤ

ユ feature1@witness.co.za

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