Ship horns blew and Italian officials breathed a sigh of relief Sunday as Costa Concordia was towed to Genoa, Italy. The multi-day towing operation, which began last Wednesday, covered 170 miles from the small island of Giglio.
Kept afloat by sponsons pumped full of air, Costa Concordia was returned to the port where she was built and launched nine years ago. Around sunrise, tugs boats pulled the vessel into position at a pier in Votri, an industrial port just outside the main Genoa harbor.
Present to watch the entry was Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi and numerous high-ranking Italian government officials. Horns blared and officials expressed thanks that that heavily damaged hull held together.
Many experts had feared that the ship’s hull might fail – causing an environmental disaster along the tow route. But the towing operation was completed without any major issues.
The successful removal of Costa Concordia from Giglio, an island off the coast of the Italian mainland, marked one of the biggest maritime salvage efforts ever undertaken.
More than a dozen vessels towed or accompanied the stricken vessel to Genoa on a slow journey. Among them were the Greenpeace Rainbow Warrior and a French Navy environmental response vessel. Eight tugs then helped position the vessel at the Votri pier.
Prime Minister Renzi reminded reporters who watched the ship being manuevered into Votri that “this is not a runway show. It's the end of a story in which many people died, which none of us will ever forget.”
Thirty-two people died in the January 2012 accident; the body of one of those victims, Russel Rebello, a waiter from India, was never recovered. It’s hoped that possibly occur during the upcoming salvage operation at Genoa to help give the family closure.
In discussing the successful towing operation, "I have come to say thank you to those who have done something that everyone said was not possible," said Renzi.
Now the ship will be taken apart piece by piece, toxic materials handled accordingly and some metals salvaged. The process could take up to two years.
The entire salvage operation -- including the dramatic parbuckling or "righting" of the ship off Giglio last summer -- is expected to cost nearly $2 billion.
Renzi told reporters who had gathered at the dock: "This isn't a day for showing off or creating a spectacle, but it's a mark of gratitude from the prime minister for getting something done which everyone said would be impossible. We have had a terrible page to turn, but Italy isn't a country destined for the scrap heap."
Gian Luca Galletti, an Italian environmental minister, took a bit of a jab at French claims that the towing operation would damage sensitive waters near Corsica, which is French. Galletti noted there were no issues during the towing operation, and that “they should have a bit more confidence in Italians.”
Late Sunday afternoon, Costa Crociere "officially" handed the ship over to the Saipem/San Giorgio del Porto consortium, the group that will demolish and recycle it.