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M623
Making it Right: The Salvage of the Costa Concordia

Jeffrey Syken

"The ship belongs to the captain, but the lifeboats belong to the crew"

Ever since man first went to sea, there have been shipwrecks. The bottom of the world’s seas and oceans bear grim testimony to this fact. “The Mighty Hand of Neptune” is ever-present and the seafarer is ever-vigilant to the harsh realities of life-at-sea. In the aftermath of the sinking of the S.S. Titanic on April 14-15, 1912, as a result of striking an iceberg in mid-Atlantic, the public was in a state in shock given the sheer scale of the disaster with its terrible toll in lives. One of the main reasons for the great loss-of-life was the inadequate number of lifeboats (due to antiquated regulations) and the inefficient use of those that were available. It appears the principle of “Conservation of Catastrophe” was at work that fateful night. This principle states that for every gain in precision in the coordination of human activity and every heightening of efficiency in production, a new vulnerability to breakdown will be realized. With 20/20 historical hindsight, it appears one of the root causes of the Titanic’s loss was the use of inferior quality rivets which held the Titanic’s hull plates together. Had better quality rivets been used, the story of the Titanic might not have ended so tragically.

Another unintended consequence of the Titanic tragedy was a call for more lifeboats which, on the surface, appears to be very reasonable and logical. However, additional lifeboats meant additional weight making many ships “top-heavy,” thus less stable. This was evident in the “Eastland Disaster” whereby a lake excursion steamer – S.S. Eastland, capsized at her wharf on the Chicago River while loading passengers, resulting in a horrendous death toll. Other maritime disasters are purely intentional. Case-in-point is the scuttling of the German Navy’s once proud “High Seas Fleet,” while interned in Scapa Flow, in June 1919. Through the 1920s and into the 1930s, many of these ships – even the battlecruisers and battleships, would be raised from the bottom and salvaged for scrap. In the wake of the raid on Pearl Harbor by carrier-borne Japanese aircraft on December 7, 1941, a heroic effort was mounted that saw all but three of the great battleships sunk and/or damaged on that “Day of Infamy” return to the fight during WWII. In 1942, while being converted to a troopship, the magnificent French liner S.S. Normandie accidentally caught fire at her pier on Manhattan’s West Side. The tremendous amount of water poured onto her by fireboats caused her to capsize; a clear case of the solution proving worse than the problem.

In more recent times, the grounding of the cruise ship Costa Concordia on a reef just off the Isola del Giglio – near the Tuscan coast of Italy, on the night of January 13-14, 2012, is an eerie reminder that the sea remains a formidable force-of-nature despite man’s ever-expanding technical prowess. The grounding was the result of the captain’s desire to make a “Salute” to a former captain who resided on Giglio. Ultimately, it resulted in the deaths of thirty-two passengers/crewmembers and one salvage diver. Twice the dis-placement of the Titanic, it would prove to be one of the great salvage efforts of all time, employing an old salver’s method known as “Parbuckling,” which was last used to “right” (bring to vertical) the battleship U.S.S. Oklahoma from the mud of Pearl Harbor. Lying in a pristine marine sanctuary, the salvage of the Costa Concordia was a delicate process that employed hundreds and took many months to complete, but in the end the ship was de-fueled, righted, refloated and towed to Genoa where it would be dismantled. On display for all the world to see and wonder at was the skill and daring of the marine salvage industry, which is both art and science and not for the faint-of-heart for it’s filled with both risk and reward, past and present.

This course includes a multiple-choice quiz at the end, which is designed to enhance the understanding of the course materials.


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