Costa Concordia Salvage Efforts Over, Five Years After Tragic Accident

Another chapter in the Costa Concordia disaster ended this month at a Genoa, Italy, shipyard. Ship Recycling Consortium, a company hired to salvage the ship, reported that San Giorgio del Porto in partnership with Saipem has completed the recycling project. 

On January 13, 2012, the ship was carrying 4,252 passengers and crew members when it hit a reef off the coast of Giglio, Italy, floundered and rolled onto its side. The accident, resulting panic and confusion killed 32 passengers and injured others.

The ship remained partially submerged off Giglio's coast until 2013 when a challenging, 17-hour "parbuckling" operation was completed. Sponsons (essentially buoyancy towers) were attached to the ship's sides so rotational leverage could pull it upright. It was then towed to a Genoa shipyard.  

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One Million Salvage Hours

Since then, up to 350 salvage workers have worked one million hours over several years to remove valuable components from Costa Concordia, such as steel and equipment. 

Seventy-eight different contractors worked on the project. In a "green effort," more than 90 percent of the ship's materials or about 53,000 tons were recycled.

Nearly 4,000 trips were made to transport those materials to recycling facilities in Italy.

In a press release, Ship Recycling said "the success of these operations represents an additional recognition of the high value of Italian naval engineering, while demonstrating the importance of a ship recycling activity that is respectful of the environment and of the safety of workers, in accordance with the most recent European regulations."

Accident and Aftermath 

Costa Concordia was under the direction of Captain Francesco Schettino at the time of the accident. He was watching from the bridge but reportedly distracted by bridge guests as the vessel sailed close to Giglio's coastline in what was reportedly a "sail by" salute for people on land. 

During the maneuver, the ship hit an underwater rock, although Schettino claimed it did not show on the ship's navigational charts. Panic ensued as the ship tilted severely due to underwater damage. Engine rooms were flooded and the ship lost power. Staterooms on the starboard side were plunged underwater. Elevator shafts were also flooded. 

Some passengers who'd boarded at Civitavecchia (Rome), the last port, hadn't yet received their "muster drill" so they didn't know what to do in an emergency. Others were told by crew members to return to their cabins for life jackets and wait for instructions. Confusion reigned and lifeboats were not deployed in a timely manner, guests reported.

Later, as some people were still on deck and trying to get out, the captain was spotted seated in a lifeboat by an Italian Coast Guard helicopter. Schettino was ordered back to the ship to take charge and help evacuate the vessel. He said he'd fallen into the lifeboat and could not go back. Schettino was terminated by Costa in 2012. 

In the accident's aftermath, several of the ship's officers and crew accepted plea deals and served three-year prison terms. A 19-month trial for Schettino ended in 2015, when he was found guilty on multiple charges and received a sentence of 16 years and one month in prison.

He received 10 years in prison for multiple counts of manslaughter; five years for causing the shipwreck; one year for abandoning the ship while many passengers and crew remained onboard; and one month for false communications to maritime authorities. He is now serving that sentence in a Rome prison. 

The cruise line avoided any potential criminal action for the accident by "settling" with the prosecutor and paying a one million euro fine. Costa also offered a settlement to passengers.

In addition, several class-action or individual civil lawsuits have been filed over the years on behalf of passengers, groups of passengers or family members. But attempts to have legal cases heard and decided in U.S. courts have been rebuffed by a U.S. appeals court.

That's because Costa is based in Italy, the accident occurred in Italian waters, evidence is in the hands of Italian authorities, witnesses are in Italy and the passenger's own cruise ticket states that any legal claims to be filed in Genoa, which is Costa's principal place of business. 

Since Costa Concordia's accident, the industry has made some safety changes. Ships now have an increased number of life jackets onboard and at lifeboat stations. Policies for bridge visitors have been tightened to avoid distractions on the bridge.

In addition, cruise lines now have instituted voyage passage planning to avoid unapproved deviations in course. Ships also now conduct emergency muster drills before a ship leaves port, not after. 

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