Wrecked ship can be refloated - owners
Rome - The wrecked cruise liner Costa Concordia could be refloated with the help of huge inflatable buoys once the fuel is pumped out and the leaks plugged, the owners said on Monday.
Pier Luigi Foschi, head of the Costa Crociere line, said the company had commissioned several firms to look at the best way to salvage the 114 500-ton vessel lying on its side off the Tuscan island of Giglio on Italy's northwest coast.
He said he did not yet know if it would be a total write-off or if it could be salvaged and returned to service, adding that the company would know by Sunday how to go about it.
"It could be righted by means of balloons and once refloated towed away by tugs," he said.
But Foschi, speaking at a news conference in Genoa, described the operation as "one of the most difficult in the world."
"There are several possibilities, but in the first place we must think about plugging the leaks," he said.
The 290m-long Costa Concordia, which is 17 decks high, has a large gash in its hull from running on to rocks before it capsized on Friday night.
Foschi said solutions envisaged did not include slicing the huge boat up into more manageable pieces, but he did not rule it out.
Foschi said he understood fears of an environmental disaster from leaking fuel oil, but stressed that there had been no signs of this.
Dutch firm Smit Salvage has been hired by Costa Crociere to pump about 2 380 tons of fuel oil from the ship, Martijn Schuttevaer, spokesperson for Boskalis, Smit's holding company, told AFP on Monday.
He said the operation was expected to start within days, but added, "The first focus at this point is still to find those people who are missing."
Twenty Smit workers were expected to be on the Tuscan island of Giglio by late on Monday, Schuttevaer said.
The rest depended on the arrival of the necessary equipment and the stability of the liner.
Schuttevaer added, "The insurers and the owner of the vessel will still have to decide on what they want to do with the vessel and to make a decision" on how to go about it.
A representative from US-based Titan Salvage in Giglio told AFP on Monday the actual removal of the ship could take weeks.
"They've been phenomenally lucky there's been no spill. If the hole in the hull had been four or five metres further along it would have punctured the tanks," he said after a series of meetings with local port authorities.
He explained that the fuel pumped out would be replaced by water in the tanks to ensure that the ship remained stable and said there was minimal risk of spillage during the pumping operation.
Foschi said the ship's captain, Francesco Schettino, had "carried out a manoeuvre which had not been approved by us", breaking company rules for an as yet unknown reason.
He estimated the immediate direct cost of the accident at $93m.