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Costa Concordia Salvage Operation Under Way
Salvage officials have begun the mammoth task of righting the crippled Costa Concordia as jacks hoist it off rocks near the Tuscany coast.
The operation was delayed by about three hours due to bad weather, and began at 9amá(8am UK time).
"At 9 o'clock all the checks were completed and the operation began," Sergio Girotto, a senior engineer.
"Everything is going smoothy, the operators are now working from the control room.
"There are a team of engineers who will follow the operation until the end."
The rescue effort will see the giant ship gradually rotated and rolled upright. It is expected to last up to 12 hours, taking it into Monday evening. Engineers say the lifting can continue after darkness falls.
When the Concordia is eventually pulled upright, less of it will be visible than at the beginning because the ship is expected to sit well below its natural waterline.
Engineers started the operation by exerting an initial 2,000 tonnes of pressure on the vessel through a complex pulley system.
The pressure will be increased in increments of 200 tonnes, with constant checks being undertaken on the stress incurred by the ship.
Mr Girotto said: "It will be sometime until you can see a change with the naked eye."
The officials have warned the stranded vessel will bend and suffer enormous internal damage during the ?600m (ú503m) operation, known as "parbuckling".
But they are confident the ship's hull will remain intact as 56 massive chains tighten around it, avoiding the nightmare scenario of the 114,000-ton vessel shattering and spilling its contents into the waters around the Italian island of Giglio.
Mr Girotto, who is the project manager for Micoperi, the Italian firm that has teamed up with US company Titan to raise the Concordia, said: "The ship will probably bend during the operation and metal inside will buckle.
"We have 12,000 tons of pressure to use, which would lift two Eiffel Towers, but I hope we will only need 5,000 or 6,000."
Parbuckling is a proven method to raise capsized vessels, notably used by the US military to right the USS Oklahoma in 1943 after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor.
But the Concordia has been described as the largest cruise ship ever to require the rotation, making this one most complex and costly maritime salvage operations ever attempted.
The cruise liner capsized in shallow water 20 months ago after smashing into rock, prompting the chaotic evacuation of 4,200 passengers and crew, and causing the deaths of 32 people.
Two bodies are still missing, and officials hope they will now be found.
Much will depend on how firmly the ship is wedged onto two pinnacles of underwater granite where it came to rest on the night of January 13, 2012.
The two outcrops, which are embedded six metres into the hull of the ship, are the great unknown at the heart of the operation, which will see the ship hoisted by jacks on to a bed of 1,000 cement bags and six underwater platforms bigger than a football pitch.
The ship is due to be hauled 65 degrees back to upright position for eventual towing.
The first two hours - when the ship should be wrenched free from the two granite outcrops it is impaled oná - will be critical.
Four to five hours will then be needed to pull the ship upwards before gravity takes over, and its final descent into an upright position, also taking four to five hours, is controlled by adjusting the buoyancy of the massive metal tanks attached to its sides.
A 12-man team will control the pulleys and tanks from a barge close to the wreck.
Marine biologist Giandomenico Ardizzone, who has been monitoring the sea bed for the ship's operator Costa Crociere, said he had dived under the vessel on Saturday to fix cameras on the points where the rocks plunge into the hull.
He said 29,000 tons of water will pour out of the ship as it is pulled upright, and an even greater amount, 43,000 tons, will enter the ship.
What does come out will be polluted water that has swilled inside the ship for months in a mix of residual fuels, heavy metals and rotten food, including more than three tons of melon, 500 litres of olive oil, 14,000 packets of cigarettes, 18,000 bottles of wine, eight tons of beef and over 11 tons of fish.
Mr Ardizzone said the quantities of heavy metals and fuels were too small to create concern for the surrounding protected marine park.
However, an Italian navy patrol ship, the Cassiopea, which specialises in pollution control, was stationed off the coast of Giglio in case any pollutants spill from the Costa Concordia.
Officials also played down reports that a large cloud of stinking gas would be released from the ship as the rotting food emerges.