Authorities have given the final go-ahead for a daring attempt on Monday to pull upright the crippled Costa Concordia cruise liner from the waters off Tuscany in a make-or-break engineering feat that has never before been tried in such conditions.
The ship capsized 20 months ago and Italy's national Civil Protection agency waited until sea and weather conditions were forecast for dawn on Monday before giving the OK. In a statement, the Civil Protection agency said the sea and wind conditions "fall within the range of operating feasibility".
The Concordia struck a reef near Giglio Island's coast on January 13 2012, took on water through a 230-foot gash in its hull and capsized just outside the harbour. Thirty-two of the 4,200 passengers and crew members died. The bodies of two of the dead have never been recovered, and may lie beneath the wreckage.
Never before have engineers tried to right such a huge ship so close to land. If the operation succeeds, the Concordia will be towed away and broken up for scrap.
Salvage experts had originally hoped to right the 115,000 ton vessel last spring, but heavy storms hampered work. Crews have raced to get the Concordia upright before another winter season batters the ship against its rocky perch - damage that would increase the chance that it couldn't be towed away in one piece.
The operation involves dozens of crank-like pulleys slowly rotating the ship upright at a rate of about 3 meters per hour, using chains that have been looped around the ship's hull. Tanks filled with water on the exposed side of the vessel will also help rotate it upward, using gravity to pull the exposed side down.
Once upright, those tanks - and an equal number that will be fixed on the opposite side - eventually will be filled with air, rather than water, to help float the ship up off the reef so it can be towed away.
Last week, the head of Italy's Civil Protection agency, Franco Gabrielli, said there was no "Plan B" if the rotation failed since there would be no other way to try it again. But Nick Sloane, the South African who is senior salvage master, said he was confident the ship would withstand the stress of the rotation.
Mayor Sergio Ortelli has asked for patience from the island's 1,400 residents during the operation, which he expected would last about 10-12 hours.