As the journalists mill around looking for scraps of news from the increasingly detailed and technical Costa Concordia press conferences (there are only so many times you can write a story about sponsons), I decide to take a walk along the harbor front.
I’m aware that this will likely be my last time at the cruise ship salvage site, so I’m going to soak it up, take a few more pictures and then file it in my memory bank. I wish I spoke Italian, it would have helped to have got closer to the locals, who are at this point completely indifferent to the hordes of badge-wearing people haunting the harbor all day.
We’re just another type of tourist to them; not so the salvage workers, many of whom have been here since the 2012 accident.
The flags of the workers’ home nations line the balconies of the Hotel Bahamas: South African, British, Italian, Canadian, American… drawn from all parts of the world to this tiny, beautiful island. They’ve made their lives here for the past two and a half years, and are part of the community, rather than us journalists who just come and go.
On Monday, I wrote: “There’s a feeling now that the end game is near, and this will soon be over.” Then later that day, Costa announced that all the underwater structures – the giant cradle, the gantries welded into the rock, the chains, cables and goodness knows what else – will also all have to be taken away. That could take another year.
As our readers said, “Who knew this would take so long?” Who knew indeed? If the ship had grounded somewhere less environmentally sensitive, they could have sliced her up right there, and not gone through this incredibly complex, expensive and difficult operation.
But they are, and that’s why these press conferences, though ostensibly tedious, reveal the most extraordinary details: Costa will attempt to return the sea bed to exactly the way it was before the accident, including some endemic mollusks that had to be shifted out of the salvage zone.
Environmental agencies are monitoring the water that runs off for hydrocarbons, heavy metals and even detergents (Costa’s head of salvage operations Franco Porcellecchia said the amount of detergent that was detected was not enough to be concerned about, and you’d soon know if there excess detergents in the water as it would be full of bubbles. Obviously.)
They have inspected every inch of the hull for cracks and fissures with remote operated vehicles (ROVs), and found nothing significant. The salvage team have determined that 18.5 meters is the optimum draft to tow the ship into Genoa; as of now, it’s been raised to Deck 5 (it will take at least until Sunday to get it to the required height).
It’s a much slower process than occurred during the parbuckling, when the ship moved a couple of degrees an hour (which now seems like a roller coaster ride compared to this refloat). So now we wait to hear how many cables are left to attach, and how many sponsons have been lowered. Otherwise, there’s not much to see, as almost everything takes place below water). It all looks much the same unless you look closely (perhaps why I made the mistake on the Live Feed when I said the ship had been raised by another deck. Sorry, I was getting ahead of myself.)
I pass a photographer every day as I return to my car, perched above the port. He stands there in the blazing sun every day with his camera on a tripod taking pictures every 30 seconds to do another timelapse video, because we’ve gotten used to that, we expect it all sped up. Real time is boring. He works for Costa, who are mindful of the needs of the watching world. We exchange greetings: “Anything happened?” I ask. “Not really,” he replies.
So what milestones remain for this project? Next week, the ship will be towed. And then the action moves to the town of Grossetto where the trial of the Captain Schettino continues. And then scrapping takes place in Genoa, a process that will take almost two years. Here in Giglio, a period of a year or more will pass until the last vestiges of this whole sorry episode will finally be removed.
And then will life go on here as usual? A lot of people have asked that question. Experts say yes, with some qualifications.
There’s a memorial to the victims erected (where the team said prayers before starting the refloat), which will serve as a constant reminder. There’s the January anniversary, which will attract back the TV crews, year in, year out. There’s the legacy left by salvage workers living here for two and a half years.
And then there are the memories of islanders, still fresh from that evening, when they opened their doors to the survivors without question. While these will inevitably fade as each year goes past, the stories will be almost certainly be passed down, as this generation points out to their kids and their grandkids the site where the ship once rested, all trace of it long gone, just words and photographs remaining.