South African leads Concordia salvage

17 September 2013

The wreck of the Costa Concordia cruise liner was finally pulled upright off the Italian island of Giglio on Tuesday following a 19-hour salvage operation, the biggest such project ever attempted – led by a South African.

Salvage master Nick Sloane was hired by US firm Titan Salvage and Italy’s Micoperi to lead the massive operation to right the 290-metre, 114 000-tonne vessel, which ran aground off Giglio on 13 January 2012, killing 32 people.

The salvage was “the biggest for a passenger ship ever undertaken, and the position of the hulk posed unique challenges to the 500-person international salvage team,” news agency AFP reported on Tuesday.

According to AFP, the ship was dragged upright by means of 36 cables strapped across the hull, with giant water-filled tanks “the size of 11-storey buildings” welded onto the side of the Costa Concordia to act as ballast.

“The man who gave the orders from a control room on a barge next to the ship was Nick Sloane, a South African with experience on some of the world’s biggest shipwrecks,” AFP reported.

The news agency quoted Sloane as saying afterwards: “I’m relieved. It was a bit of a rollercoaster … The scale of it was something we’ve never seen before.”

According to AFP, Sloane’s career – he starting working for South African salvage company Safmarine in 1980, and was promoted to the position of salvage master in 1991 – has taken him to six continents and two warzones.

Barbie Latza Nadeau, a journalist who is working on a novel based on the Costa Concordia disaster, described Sloane, in an article published on Monday by CNN, as “sort of a cross between Russell Crowe and Prince Harry, with the type of red-freckled skin that should never be in the sun”.

During their interview, Nadeau wrote, the 52-year-old Sloane “intersperses his salvage war stories with warm family tales about his long-suffering wife of 24 years, who has had to shoulder the responsibility of raising their 17-year-old twins and 10-year-old daughter while he disaster-hops around the globe.”

Sloane told CNN that he had hoped to be back home in South Africa by the first week of September, but that a combination of bad weather and bureaucracy had held up the salvage operation.

“I can’t leave the island for good until she does,” he told CNN, with a nod to the Costa Concordia.

Project overseer Franco Gabrielli told AFP on Tuesday that the newly exposed side of the wreck would need “major repairs” before the vessel could be towed away for scrapping, which would only happen next year at the earliest.

SAinfo reporter