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Costa Concordia salvage effort to last until Tuesday

The operation to right and float the stricken Costa Concordia cruise liner is set to take until Tuesday. After already suffering delays, salvage workers are trying to complete the project before bad weather strikes.

"We will work flat-out through the night," said Franco Gabrielli, the head of Italy's Civil Protection agency which is overseeing the US-Italian project, said Monday. "Things are advancing, but at a slower rate."

Gabrielli said there had been a delay in lifting the ship - a process expected to finish by 1900 UTC Monday. He added there was "great concern" that forecast high winds and waves could hamper the salvage effort.

Monday's mission was to rotate the ship back towards an upright position, ready to subsequently refloat the hull. It is the biggest ever salvage operation for a passenger ship.

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

To coax the 290 meter (951 foot) vessel off its side, workers are combining a number of tactics. The ship is first raised with cables and pulleys, then water tanks attached to its exposed side are used as counterweights to pull it into an upright position.

The cruise ship ran aground in January 2012 on reefs just off the Mediterranean island of Giglio; 32 passengers died and two more are still missing, presumed drowned. Operator Costa Cruises (Costa Crociere) estimated last week that the combined costs of salvaging the ship were standing at 600 million euros ($800 million) "and rising."

Unexpected delays

The salvage operation ran into unexpected delays when steel cables became tangled, causing work to be halted for an hour.

"The game is not over," said Sergio Girotto, the engineer overseeing the salvage efforts. "The road is still quite challenging."

After nine hours of work Monday, the ship was turned by an angle of "almost 13 degrees," said Franco Porcellacchia, another senior engineer. Once the vessel has risen to 24 degrees, the ship will begin righting itself due to the gravity from the tanks.

"At this point we're around halfway through the first phase," Porcellacchia said. "It's all happening very slowly but very carefully and safely."

Officials stressed that so far no toxic chemicals had been spilled.

The ship had 4,229 passengers and crew on board when it ran aground. Its captain, Francesco Schettino, faces charges of manslaughter. Schettino is accused both of ordering a rash change of direction that caused the crash, and of trying to abandon his post afterwards.

A team of around 500 people from 26 countries have played some role in the extensive efforts to salvage the giant cruise liner.

dr/kms (AFP, dpa, Reuters, AP)

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