Skip to main content

Costa Concordia salvage: Island celebrations and relief

By Barbie Latza Nadeau, special to CNN
updated 5:39 PM EDT, Tue September 17, 2013
  • The Costa Concordia ship was righted after a huge salvage effort off the island of Giglio
  • The people of Giglio see the operation as moving the beast off their shore, writes Nadeau
  • To the workers, it was a risky operation that succeeded, she says

Editor's note: Barbie Latza Nadeau is the Rome bureau chief for Newsweek Daily Beast and a contributor to CNN. She is working on a novel based on the Costa Concordia disaster.

Giglio, Italy (CNN) -- Long before the sun came up over the newly vertical Costa Concordia cruise liner, a little party was going on in Giglio harbor.

It was just after 4am and the team of highly specialized salvage experts, who were feeling proud about the unprecedented rotation of the massive vessel that crashed on Giglio's shores in January 2012, were making their way to the dock from the control room where they'd spent the last 19 hours.

When the Concordia finally came to rest on the platforms 30 meters below water at exactly 4am, the salvage vessels in the harbor blew their horns in celebration -- which summoned the villagers who came to the port.

The refloated wreck of the Costa Concordia is towed to the Italian port of Genoa on Sunday, July 27, to be scrapped, ending the ship's final journey two and a half years after it capsized at a cost of 32 lives. The refloated wreck of the Costa Concordia is towed to the Italian port of Genoa on Sunday, July 27, to be scrapped, ending the ship's final journey two and a half years after it capsized at a cost of 32 lives.
The Costa Concordia disaster
Photos: The Costa Concordia disaster Photos: The Costa Concordia disaster

It escaped no one that a similar scene played out 20 months earlier when the Concordia first came to rest on the rocky shores.

Only this time, instead of carrying blankets and warm clothes for the shipwreck victims, they carried champagne bottles for the salvage crews.

INTERACTIVE: How ill-fated cruise liner was raised from Italian seabed

Captain Richard Habib, the director of Titan Salvage, which is leading the mammoth $800 million operation, was standing on shore in a well-worn gray Titan jumpsuit, to thank his team personally.

Shipwrecked cruise liner now upright
Timelapse shows raised Costa Concordia
See Costa Concordia rise from water
Costa Concordia salvage operation slows

He looked every bit like one of the workers and not at all like the big boss coming in from Florida. "We've worked on this for the last 18 months, and our efforts paid off well," Habib later told CNN as he sipped a celebratory beer with workers at the Bar Fausto on the portside. "It came together well."

READ: What's inside of wrecked cruise ship?

Habib, himself a salvage master, stepped aside while the star of this particular show, Nick Sloane, the 52-year-old South African in charge of the Concordia salvage, and his key team took center stage. And what a stage it was. As the team walked from the port to the Fausto, the crowds cheered and rushed to hug them.

Many popped champagne bottles and passed them around, almost as if the home team had just won the Superbowl. Many of the salvage workers sat at the outdoor tables, just like they do after every shift and wondered just what all the fuss was about. "It's just a job," said one of the Scottish workers. "I can't believe they are all here at this hour waiting for us."

In fact, the people of Giglio see the rotation, or parbuckling, of the Costa Concordia liner very differently than the salvage team that pulled off the feat. For the workers, it was a risky operation that succeeded. But for the Giglese, it is the first concrete step towards moving the beast from the island's shore.

READ: How cruise ship tragedy transformed an island paradise

Throughout the day on Monday when the Concordia slowly rolled to vertical, the islanders watched and waited and paced up and down the port like nervous parents before a birth. Many of them lined the hills above the wreck with binoculars and time-lapse cameras to capture the event.

When the morning sun finally rose to show the Concordia's twisted and bent starboard side, the horror of the wreck suddenly seemed more real than even the night it happened.

For 20 months, the ship had been melded to its rocky underwater perch. When it was peeled off, it exposed a scene that looked something like a cross between an earthquake and a bomb.

Soggy curtains hung limp in the broken windows, deck chairs were imbedded into the stateroom walls. One lone lifeboat that had been smashed into the ship's carcass looked as flat as a painting hanging on the wall.

Suitcases and dingy brown stained bedding were pressed up against the few windows that were still intact. The stateroom balconies were folded up against the ship's outer wall, some trapping deck chairs against the cabin doors.

Islanders mingled with journalists who studied the wreckage from every possible angle exchanging binoculars and long-lens cameras to get a better view, pointing out bizarre details of a scene that literally petrified the moment the ship crashed into the rocky shore.

It was a surreal scene, and one made even more poignant by the fact that the other half of the ship was still pristine white, almost as if the ship was wearing a half-white, half-black masquerade mask. There was nothing to do but stare.

Part of complete coverage on
The Costa Concordia disaster
updated 11:26 AM EST, Tue December 2, 2014
The captain of the wrecked Costa Concordia cruise ship faced questions over the change of course that led to its sinking.
updated 8:09 AM EST, Tue November 4, 2014
Nearly three years after the Costa Concordia cruise ship ran aground off Italy's Giglio Island, the remains of the final victim have been recovered.
updated 5:58 PM EDT, Sun July 27, 2014
The crippled Costa Concordia cruise ship reached the end of its final voyage.
updated 4:04 AM EDT, Wed July 23, 2014
When the ship and its salvage convoy finally depart Giglio, the residents of this picturesque island will breathe a sigh of relief -- and shed a tear.
updated 12:18 PM EDT, Mon July 14, 2014
It may be the biggest salvage operation in history, but no one would accuse it of being the fastest.
updated 11:30 AM EDT, Mon July 14, 2014
How long does it take? How much does it cost? Here is salvaging the Costa Concordia, by the numbers.
updated 1:36 PM EDT, Mon September 16, 2013
The nautical blue paint spelling out "Costa Concordia" has almost all bubbled and chipped off the bow of the once luxurious cruise liner.
updated 11:21 AM EDT, Mon September 16, 2013
The passengers weren't the only people whose lives were transformed by the Concordia disaster. So was the island/
updated 11:23 AM EDT, Mon September 16, 2013
Nick Sloane: Has master mariner in charge of salvage met his match in the Costa Concordia?
updated 7:23 AM EDT, Tue September 17, 2013
Browse our interactive to see how one of the largest cruise liners ever built will finally be raised from the Italian sea bed.