* Costa Concordia leaves Tuscan island for scrapyard
* Whole operation to cost ship owners over 1.5 bln euros
* One of largest maritime salvage operations in history
(Adds quotes, detail)
By Eleanor Biles and Silvia Ognibene
GIGLIO ISLAND, Italy, July 23 The rusty hulk of
the Costa Concordia began its journey to the scrapyard on
Wednesday, after a two-year salvage operation off the Italian
island where the cruise liner capsized two years ago, killing 32
Boats sounded horns and church bells rang as a tug boat
slowly pulled the wreck of the liner, which was around two-and-a
half times the size of the Titanic, away from the holiday island
of Giglio, accompanied by a convoy of 14 vessels.
Salvage workers gathered in bars at the port, drinking beer
and smoking huge cigars, to celebrate after completing one of
the largest maritime salvage operations in history.
"It gives us great satisfaction, but obviously a measured
satisfaction, a sober satisfaction, a satisfaction that cannot
overshadow why we are here," Franco Gabrielli, the head of
Italy's Civil Protection Authority, told reporters after the
ship began its final voyage.
The 114,500-tonne wreck is due to arrive at a port near
Genoa in northern Italy on either Saturday or Sunday, before
being broken up for scrap. The once-gleaming white luxury liner
sank off Giglio in January 2012 after sailing too close to
Despite intermittent bad weather over the past week, the
salvage crews have slowly lifted the Concordia from underwater
platforms by pumping air into 30 large metal boxes, or sponsons,
attached to the hull.
Franco Porcellachia, the engineer in charge of the
operation, said on Tuesday that his team had done everything in
their power to make sure the massive ship was structurally sound
for the four-day journey.
"Once we are in Genoa, then I can relax," Nick Sloane, the
South African salvage master who has coordinated the operation,
The whole salvage operation is expected to cost the ship's
owners - Costa Crociere, a unit of Carnival Corp - more
than 1.5 billion euros ($2 billion), its chief executive said
earlier this month.
The wreck's departure removes both the physical remains,
which prompted worries about pollution on the picturesque Tuscan
coastline, and the visual spectre of a chaotic evacuation of
crew and passengers, some of whom jumped ship and swam ashore.
"At the beginning, this ship was a place where I saw tragedy
strike, I saw death," said Italian Luciano Castro, a survivor of
the tragedy. "Over time though, I thought this ship is also a
place where a miracle occurred. It is true that unfortunately 32
people died, but also 4,000 people were saved."
The ship's captain, Francesco Schettino, is fighting charges
of manslaughter, causing a shipwreck as he tried to "salute" the
port, and abandoning ship.
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 wreck.
One person who was on the ship when it sank is still
missing. Salvage organisers have said the search for the body
will continue once the Concordia has left Giglio.
The ship was righted in September in a complex "parbuckling"
operation in which the huge hulk was slowly lifted off the
rocks. That took 19 hours and drew media coverage from around
The demolition and scrapping will be done by a consortium
that includes Italian oil-services group Saipem and
Genoa-based companies Mariotti and San Giorgio.
($1 = 0.7426 euros)
(Reporting by Eleanor Biles and Silvia Ognibene, writing by
Isla Binnie; Editing by Steve Scherer and Susan Fenton and Larry