The Costa Concordia has begun its final voyage. The wrecked cruise liner is being towed away from the Italian island of Giglio, two-and-a-half years after it struck rocks and capsized, killing 32 people.
The 300 meter vessel began its journey on Wednesday to a port in Genoa, where it will be broken up for scrap. Sea traffic was around Giglio's port was closed after the arrival of the morning ferry at 8:30 a.m. (6:30 UTC).
A team of four tugboats and several escort ships are towing the rusty hulk of the Costa Concordia to the northern port, where it is due to arrive on Sunday.
"We will claim victory only when we will get to Genoa," said the head of Italy's civil protection agency, Franco Gabrielli.
The ship sank off the holiday island of Giglio in January 2012 after venturing too close to shore. Thirty-two of the ship's 4,229 passengers and crew were killed. One body was never recovered, and a diver died during salvage work in February.
Historic salvage operation
The wreck has remained there ever since. The effort to right and float the vessel away from its watery resting place is the biggest salvage operation of a passenger ship ever performed.
The project started in May 2012 and its $1 billion (740 million euro) cost is being covered by insurance companies.
Salvagers over the past week have slowly lifted the ship from underwater platforms by pumping air into 30 large metal boxes attached to the hull.
Bad weather delayed the operation for two days, but salvage master Nick Sloane said Wednesday that "forecasts are good" and "today is a big day for Giglio."
The cruise liner will travel at around 3.7 kilometers per hour (2 nautical knots) and a 17-person salvage team will be on the ship for its journey.
Sensors on the side of the ship will monitor possible cracks, while underwater cameras will watch for debris washing out of the vessel amid fears of possible toxic spillage. Free-floating objects like suitcases, clothes and furniture will be caught in a huge net and infrared sensors will detect oil leaks at night.
Captain under fire
The Costa Concordia's captain, Francesco Schettino, is currently on trial for charges of manslaughter, causing a shipwreck as he tried to "salute" the port and abandoning ship. He has claimed he fell into a lifeboat.
During court proceedings earlier this year, the cruise company's crisis coordinator said Schettino tried to persuade him to pretend an electrical blackout had caused the disaster.
The captain has been dubbed Italy's "most hated man" by domestic media after the incident. On Tuesday, photographs emerged of him partying on the island of Ischia.
Four other crew members and an executive from the ship's owner, Costa Crociere - Europe's biggest cruise operator and part of US giant Carnival - have already plea-bargained and been convicted on lesser charges.
dr/msh (Reuters, dpa, AFP)