The last time I saw a Costa cruise ship, it was lying on its side off an island. I am of course referring to Costa Concordia, which I had the privilege of watching being ‘parbuckled’ (hoisted upright) back in September.
So when the invitation came through to watch the ‘float-out’ (or in trade parlance ‘technical launch’) of Costa Diadema in Marghera, Venice, I jumped at the chance.
The 132,000-ton, 4947-passenger Costa Diadema is the largest ever cruise ship built for Costa, and indeed in Italy. Same in design and size to Carnival’s ‘Dream’ class of ship, Diadema will be Costa’s future flagship when it launches on October 30 next year. Costing €550m and four years in the making, the ship is the 10th Costa ship built by Fincantieri in Italy.
Although Fascinosa launched very soon after the dreadful events of January 13, 2012, this launch has always felt more symbolic to me. Coming soon after the successful parbuckling, and being of such a size and heralding a new class, the launch of Diadema is a chance to look forward rather than constantly back.
I’ve seen keel-laying and christenings, but I’ve never seen a float out. I think I had in my mind those old reels where the wooden supports are removed and the ship slowly slides back into the water with a giant splash. Not so. But what did happen was just as, if not more, dramatic as you can see in these photos.
It was a grim day: drizzling, windy and cold. The ship was sat on blocks in the yard, supported by – well, I’m not sure what it was supported by, actually – sheer weight perhaps? We thronged round the edge of the cavernous dry dock basin, careful not to slip, the ship towering above us.
The technical launch went according to seafaring tradition: with the welding of a coin at the base of what was once the mainmast – a custom considered to bring good luck. Finally at just after 10am the speeches began, followed by a brief blessing and then an introduction to the godmother, Franca Grasso, who said a few words, before pressing the button to smash the champagne bottle (which smashed, in case you’re wondering).
And then, the massive iron doors preventing the water from entering the dry dock basin area, slowly opened, and the water began to flood in. It was incredible to watch, the pressure must have been enormous: a bit like a dam opening its doors: powerful jets slowly filling the vast space.
What was extraordinary was despite the volume of water pouring in, it took a good half hour to reach the hull. Work will now start on the interiors, to make this ship, as chief executive Thamm put it: “Our most ambitious yet”.
It’s not for me to comment on the significance or otherwise of this ceremony to Costa; all I can comment on is how it made me feel, personally. In the same way the parbuckling operation was such a success, and drew a symbolic line under Concordia (albeit temporary; the ship still has to be towed and Schettino’s trial is still ongoing); I felt this did too.
Despite the weather, there was a real mood amongst the workers of celebration; of the management it seemed more like determination. Or as Thamm put it at the press conference after the ceremony: “Costa’s back.”
Indeed it is.