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Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Engineering Philosophies Tested In Costa Concordia Recovery

The Costa Concordia catastrophe's recovery project is fast approaching $1 billion (originally estimated to be about $300 million) and is testing engineering minds in the process.

A remarkable story of human ingenuity is rising amidst the disaster as both Italian and international talent and resources are being committed to removing the massive cruise liner from where it hauntingly lays half submerged at an angle in water on the island of Giglio in Tuscany.

Giglio, a hidden gem for tourists, also produces expensive tiles.

The design and material needed falls right into the abilities of Italian know-how but it's a challenge made much more complex given the delicate and rich marine life that exists under the ship thus dismissing the possibility of simply blowing it to bits.

Der Spiegel writes:

"On the island of Giglio, they are currently preparing the most spectacular shipwreck towing maneuver in maritime history. Never before has such a colossal cruise ship been raised to an upright position. The vessel is 290 meters (951 feet) long and 36 meters (118 feet) wide. It has a displacement of 50,000 metric tons. To make matters worse, it's lying in a precarious position on a rocky slope and is in danger of sliding into deeper water. The salvage is expected to cost at least €300 million ($387 million) and will set new technical and environmental standards."

The plan to literally pull the ship onto a plank is a hit or miss scenario according to experts involved.

"...In early May, four months after the ship ran aground, a technical committee comprised of representatives of the shipping company, shipbuilding companies and additional experts awarded the contract to Titan Salvage and Micoperi, a company based in Ravenna, Italy that specializes in underwater constructions such as oil platforms. Six other companies had also bid on the project, including specialists working for Smit from Rotterdam, who until just a few weeks ago had been pumping the heavy fuel out of the wreck. The Dutch were so popular that Giglio residents performed a Mexican wave for them down at the harbor. Smit was also the company that achieved the feat in 2003 of cutting apart a sunken car freighter in the English Channel and removing it piece by piece.

The committee decided against cutting apart the Costa Concordia, and instead opted for the most expensive proposal -- the plan to bring the capsized ship to an upright position. To achieve this, they will use a kind of rolling maneuver called the parbuckling principle. For the experiment, 33-meter high watertight steel boxes, or caissons, will be attached to the sides of the ship and used as floats. From an underwater platform deeply anchored in the bedrock, 36 steel cables, each as thick as a lamppost, will extend to the upper edge of the caissons. These cables will be used to almost silently rotate the ship out of its tilted position. It will have taken one year to painstakingly prepare the maneuver, but it will require less than two hours to perform it -- if all goes well."

"...It has already become clear that the salvage operation with Titan Salvage and Micoperi has set the stage for the clash of two very different corporate cultures: One is a team of daredevil problem solvers who rope down from helicopters to the decks of stricken tankers and lasso abandoned ships on the high seas as if they were wild horses. The other is a group of designer engineers who work meticulously according to official guidelines, where each step is coordinated with the coast guard, the Environment Ministry, the region of Tuscany or the mayor of Giglio. In situations like this, Italy's bureaucrats can be very fussy. On numerous occasions, Micoperi engineers have urged their colleagues from Titan Salvage to show more respect for rules and regulations: "We are not in Bangladesh."
The enormity and complexity of the task is something worth following.

More on the story here.

Microperi website here.

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