By Steve Scherer
ROME (Reuters) - Thirty massive tanks filled with air will lift the hulk of the Costa Concordia off the seabed in June so it can be towed away from the Italian island of Giglio where it capsized two years ago, officials said on Friday.
The 114,500-tonne vessel hit rocks on January 13, 2012, killing 32 people. It was hauled upright in a complex "parbuckling" operation in September but still rests where it capsized, just outside the holiday island's small port.
The ship's captain Francesco Schettino is on trial for manslaughter, causing the wreck and abandoning ship. He says he was not the only person to blame for the disaster.
Refloating the Concordia will be one more phase in the largest maritime salvage in history. Where the ship will be dismantled - the final step - has yet to be decided.
"This incident is part of our DNA and our mission is to make sure that it never happens again," Michael Thamm, chief executive of Costa Crociere, a unit of Carnival Corp, which owns the liner, told reporters at a news conference.
"We are very confident we can remove the ship from the island within the month of June."
The Concordia salvage is expected to be the most expensive wreck recovery ever, costing over 600 million euros ($815 million), more than half the overall insurance loss of more than $1.1 billion.
Around two-and-a-half times the size of the Titanic, the Costa Concordia was typical of the latest generation of cruise liners, built to carry thousands of passengers and keep them entertained with restaurants, cinemas and bars.
Italian officials at the news conference confirmed June was the target date for towing away the ship, though the engineer in charge of the salvage efforts said a slight delay could not be ruled out, depending mostly on weather.
"During the next tourist season on the island the ship will be gone," Environment Minister Andrea Orlando said.
Where the ship will be dismantled will be decided by the end of February, said Franco Gabrielli, the man charged by the government with overseeing the salvage operations.
Twelve companies are expected to bid for the dismantling contract, including ABLE UK based in northeast England. Other interested companies are based in Italy, Norway, Turkey, France, China and the Netherlands, Thamm said.
Few ports in Europe have the necessary depth of at least 20 meters to take the vessel, said Franco Porcellacchia, the engineer in charge of the salvage. Officials declined to say how much the dismantling would cost because the bidding process is in progress.
In April, teams will begin to fit 19 buoyancy tanks to the side of the ship, adding to the 11 already in place. Once the tanks are fitted and the weather is good, the Concordia will be ready to be refloated, Porcellacchia said.
The plan is to begin to pump air into the tanks and water out at the start of June. It will take seven to 10 days to slowly lift the ship from the seabed and prepare it for towing.
"It's a very delicate operation," Porcellacchia said. ($1 = 0.7361 euros)
(Additional reporting Hanna Rantala and Gabriele Pileri; writing by Gavin Jones and Steve Scherer; editing by Andrew Roche)
- Costa Concordia