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How Do You Take Apart A Floating City?

Jan 27, 2012
Originally published on January 27, 2012 9:04 am
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STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

It's MORNING EDITION, from NPR News. I'm Steve Inskeep.

The crippled cruise ship Costa Concordia runs the length of three football fields, and it's on its side, perched on a reef off a Tuscan island on the edge of deep water after a much-publicized catastrophe. The ship is also in the middle of the Mediterranean's largest marine sanctuary.

So what do you do with a pile of junk that large? Well, salvage operators are preparing to remove a half-million gallons of fuel to keep an environmental disaster from happening, and then they address the ship itself.

Our colleague Renee Montagne reached one man who knows well the challenge ahead. Joe Farrell runs the salvage company Resolve Marine.

RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:

And he's been salvaging vessels for over 30 years. We reached him to learn more about how you take apart a floating city.

Good morning.

JOE FARRELL: Good morning, Renee.

MONTAGNE: Where do you begin?

FARRELL: Well, you aptly identified it. It is a floating city. This particular instance, because you've got loss of life and people whose remains have not been recovered, you need to start there. It's a major concern, if you can just envision one of your own loved ones missing.

So you've got two competing concerns. You've got an environmental threat, a significant one, given the amount of oil onboard. And you want to recover the remains. So you've got a two-pronged approach. The ship's bottom is half out of the water. And what they'll be doing is drilling holes to extract the oil out. And the opposite side of the ship will - they won't interfere with one another - will be the search for the remains of the people.

MONTAGNE: Once the recovery effort is complete and the fuel removed, what then? What happens to the ship?

FARRELL: Well, right now, while the fuel's being removed - of course, all the engineers are designing and deciding what's the best way to remove it. You know, the preferred way, the least amount of impact would be to try and take the entire vessel out of there in one go. That would be preferred. There's less debris in the water. There's less possibility of some residual oils that haven't been removed to become in the environment.

Then basically, many of these jobs, you can roll a ship up by just physically grabbing her side - in other words, her port main deck where the houses meet the hull. It's the strongest point, and you put a lot of attachments. And you physically kind of roll it upright. Obviously, there's a lot of debris in the ship with all these, you know, compartments full of structure of beds and pillows and everything.

So that's probably the preferred way. Is it capable of doing that? Well, we're not sure, because you still also need to determine, when she went down, is the other side of the ship compromised in terms of is that hull totally destroyed as well?

When she went down, you know, if you've got huge gashes on there, then you're going to spend a lot more time repairing that.

MONTAGNE: Meaning, really, at the moment, that's a question mark.

FARRELL: Oh, yeah. It's definitely not known. You'll need brute strength to roll it upright, you know. It may be something six to 10,000 tons of pull, which is not a huge amount, but given the water depths onboard, you've got to have some heavy barges for a lot of hydraulic pulling.

You might put some levers on the side to move the pivot point a little higher up. If, in fact, the bottom is still at an angle going to where she could slide down, you'd have to first stop that by putting some deadmen - or some anchoring devices on the backside of the ship towards the island, so that if you wanted to pull it to try to roll it up, you've got to certainly make sure you don't pull the whole thing down in deeper water.

So you've got to look at the amount of time it's going to take to do that. You've got to look at the amount of cost it's going to take to do that against, OK, what is it going to cost to take the - and sectionalize the ship up? In other words, cutting it up in sections.

MONTAGNE: So, I guess, simply put, though, one thing that's not in doubt is that the Concordia is not going to be sailing the seas?

FARRELL: I wouldn't suspect you'll see here sailing the seas again.

MONTAGNE: Joe Farrell is the president and founder of the salvage company Resolve Marine. He joined us from Fort Lauderdale, Florida.

Thanks very much.

FARRELL: All right, Renee. Thank you very much. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.