The refloating of Costa Concordia began at 6 a.m. local time on Monday, July 14, near the island of Giglio, Italy. The full refloating effort is expected to take several days.
Thirty sponsons, which provide buoyancy and expel water, will keep the stricken ship afloat during the tow-away. So far, early Monday, authorities were encouraged as the ship began to float with the sponsons attached.
In a news conference six hours after the work began Monday, Franco Porchellachia, the engineer in charge of the salvage operation for Titan Salvage, reported that the ship was upright and not listing, which he described as "extremely positive."
As air is pumped into the sponsons, the ship is moving six-and-one-half feet off the man-made platform it's been resting on since last September. More than three dozen cables and 56 chains are holding the sponsons in place, but there is a risk that the chains could snap or the ship could bend.
So far, though, the signs are positive. Several dozen workers from the salvage firm are onboard the ship to monitor the refloating operation.
Franco Gabrielli, an official with Italy’s Civil Protection Department, spoke to reporters on Giglio Island Sunday; he acknowledged that while weather conditions weren't the best, they were still acceptable to begin the refloating and tow-away operation.
Once the ship is under tow, it’s expected to travel at about the two knots per hour to Genoa, Italy, where it will be broken apart. Each knot is equivalent to one nautical mile per hour. So the ship will be towed at about 2.4 miles per hour. The entire trip is expected to take at least five days.
Gabrielli said he hopes that after the wreckage is towed away, the remains of a crew member, an Indian waiter, will be recovered on the seabed. The waiter was among the 32 guests and crew members killed in the January 2012 accident.
During the towing journey, the ship will be shadowed by the Greenpeace International flagship, Rainbow Warrior, as it sails through pristine waters protected as nature reserves; whales and dolphins are among the prolific marine life.
There is some environmental risk, particularly if the towing operation runs into bad weather. Still, Costa Cruises has emphasized there will be no risk of pollution or damage to sensitive marine reserves. Nets and absorbent booms will surround the ship, as a precaution to catch any potential pollution from the damaged hull.
In addition, all fuel was pumped from Costa Concordia shortly after the accident. But other materials onboard such as rotting food, furniture or interior fittings -- if spilled into the sea -- could pose some potential risk.
Greenpeace has concerns that the ship itself could break apart or sink while under tow. A boat with environmental spotters will search for whales or dolphins in the ship’s path, hoping to avoid any potential collisions.
When Costa Concordia reaches Genoa, it will be broken up. It’s a sad ending for the ship which launched from the same port in 2006.
As the ship moves to the final phase of its life, the captain fights for his freedom in an Italian court in Tuscany. Captain Francesco Schettino is on trial for manslaughter, causing a maritime accident and abandoning ship. He denies all charges.
Authorities say he sailed close to Giglio as a maritime salute to people he knew on the island. Schettino cites faulty navigational charts that didn’t show the rocks the ship hit. Prosecutors say that’s irrelevant, as the captain showed poor judgment and a dereliction of duty by sailing so close to the island.