Costa Concordia dilemma: salvage, cut, or sink?

Fri Jan 27, 2012 6:54am EST
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By Gilbert Kreijger

AMSTERDAM (Reuters) - Twice the size of the Titanic and three times the length of a soccer pitch, the cruise ship Costa Concordia conjures up superlatives even as a wreck.

Fitted out with sumptuous spas, enormous ballrooms and a Formula 1 race car simulator for its 3,000 passengers, it cruised around the Mediterranean with the equivalent of a small town on board.

Now half-submerged off the coast of Tuscany like an office block that has keeled over, the Costa Concordia could cost the insurance industry up to $1 billion, making this the biggest-ever shipping loss for insurers.

And for the salvagers - maritime scavengers who are preparing to bid for the business of either making it shipshape again, or dismembering it for scrap, or even sending it to the bottom - the Costa Concordia poses one of the most daunting recovery tasks ever tackled.

At 290 meters long and 36 meters wide, the ship has a gross tonnage - describing the volume and size of the vessel - of 114,500 tonnes, and an estimated actual weight ranging from 25,000 to 45,000 tonnes.

But half-submerged and tipped on its side, it is now much heavier because it is full of water and furnishings, from soggy mattresses, carpets and clothes to water-logged chairs and sofas. And it is perched perilously close to a sea cliff on rocks that in the worst-case scenario could crumble or collapse under the enormous weight.

All of which means that the owners of the crippled cruise ship will have to weigh up whether it makes more sense financially to refloat it or to chop it into pieces which can be sold for scrap, or simply sink it off the coast, given the technical difficulties involved.

"This has not happened with other passenger ships," said Mike Lacey of the International Salvage Union, the sector's trade association. "There have been large bulk carriers or large tankers that were stranded but not a type such as this one."   Continued...

<p>An oil recovery sea platform (R) is seen next to the Costa Concordia cruise ship off the west coast of Italy, at Giglio island January 25, 2012. REUTERS/Darrin Zammit Lupi</p>