(Fixes misplaced decimal point in dollar conversion, penultimate paragraph)
* Salvage operation one of the largest in maritime history
* Captain on trial for abandoning ship, causing the wreck
* Ship to be towed to Genoa for scrapping
By Eleanor Biles
GIGLIO, Italy, July 14 (Reuters) - Technicians on Monday began a complex operation to refloat and tow away the wreck of the Costa Concordia, two and a half years after the luxury liner capsized off the Italian coast, killing 32 people.
The rusty hulk of the once-gleaming white 290-metre ship, which ran aground on rocks near the Tuscan holiday island of Giglio while carrying out a display manoeuvre, has been resting on a temporary platform since being righted a year ago.
The process of re-floating the 114,500 tonne ship at the end of one of the largest salvage operations in history began when air was pumped into 30 large metal boxes, or sponsons, attached around its hull. The air will force out water in the sponsons and slowly refloat the vessel.
“Our hope is not 100 percent but 300 percent that everything goes well and they manage to take this away, that they remove this testimony to human weakness as quickly as possible,” said island resident Antonio Bellardo.
After the ship has been raised about two metres, later on Monday it will be further stabilised with chains and cables, and tug boats will move it about 30 metres into the harbour, where it will be prepared to be towed within days to Genoa in northern Italy, to be scrapped.
The ship’s captain, Francesco Schettino, is on trial accused of manslaughter, causing a shipwreck as he sailed too close to shore to “salute” the port, and abandoning ship. He is fighting the charges.
Paying for the disaster, including breaking up the vessel and repairing damage to Giglio, is likely to cost the ship’s owner and operator Costa Crociere, a unit of Carnival Corp , more than 1.5 billion euros ($2.05 billion), its chief executive said last week.
The hulk will be demolished and scrapped in Genoa by a consortium including oil services company Saipem and Genoa-based companies Mariotti and San Giorgio. ($1 = 0.7331 Euros) (Writing by Philip Pullella, additional reporting by Isla Binnie; Editing by Kevin Liffey)