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Parbuckling the Costa Concordia

September 20th, 2013

Costa Concordia during preparations to be salvaged. Photo credit: lwpkommunikacio via Flickr/CC

Parbuckling  may not be a word on many of your vocabulary tests. But engineers earlier this week used it, and did it, when they righted an enormous cruise ship, the Costa Concordia , that had been lying on its side for nearly two years after crashing on some rocks off the coast of Italy, in January 2012.

Parbuckling is defined  as the process of moving something, usually using a rope or some similar means to help move it.

Image from

The salvage of the Costa Concordia , including the parbuckling to set it upright, is being  described  as the largest, most expensive, and most complex salvage operation in history. The ship is longer than 3 football fields (950 ft/290 m), was 17 decks high, and weighed 114,000 tons.

By  comparison , the Titanic, which sank 100 years ago, was shorter, weighed half as much, and had half as many people on board.

Over 4,000 people were on board when the Costa Concordia  came too close to shore sightseeing near the scenic island of Giglio, and became hopelessly stuck on a granite reef. Tragically, 32 people lost their lives. Many experts say it all happened unnecessarily.

It took a year-and-a-half to prepare to right the ship, it took 19 hours to get it upright when the process started on September 16 … and thanks to time-lapse photography, you can see it happen in 30 seconds below!

The operation had to be meticulous (meaning showing great attention to detail, very precise). Weather factored in, too, which actually delayed it.

500 hundred people from 26 countries worked 24-hours a day to make this salvage happen, Scientific American reported.

How’d they do it?

First, the ship needed to be freed from the rocks it was stuck on. An underwater platform had to be built to catch it and also pulled upright with incredibly strong cables.

And it all had to be done without the ship breaking apart or sinking. That would have caused both an environmental disaster, and made it much harder to salvage the ship.

Thankfully, everything went smoothly.

We recommend the website . It’s got a lot of great material about the salvage process.

Image and explanation by Scientific American/Illustration by Dan Foley (to read the words, click on the picture)

The next steps are to keep the boat upright and afloat.

Engineers built enormous hollow wooden boxes supports, on both sides of the ship that fill with both air and water to keep it steady and above the water. Then, finally, it will be towed away. It’s a slower process than you might think. The next phase will begin next spring and will be towed away by summer. The ship will ultimately taken apart, according to reports.

In the meantime, hopefully lessons have been learned so that no other cruise ship will ever have to be parbuckled again.

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