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Work to begin on removing Concordia

The "monumental" operation to re-float and remove the wrecked Costa Concordia cruise ship will be the biggest and costliest ever of its kind, the company said today.

The project, due to get under way in the next few days, is set to cost 300 million US dollars (£190 million) and to take up to a year to complete, Costa Crociere said. It starts more than four months after the liner struck rocks off the Italian island of Giglio and turned on its side, leaving more than 30 people dead.

Italo-American consortium Titan-Micoperi will carry out the removal work, which a Costa Crociere spokesman said was "the biggest and most expensive" salvage operation ever attempted.

The plan to re-float the vessel's hull in one piece will help minimise the environmental impact, the company said, and it is hoped the plans will also protect Giglio's economy and tourist industry.

Costa Crociere said in a statement: "Environmental protection will have top priority throughout this monumental salvage operation, the likes of which have never been attempted before anywhere in the world. The plan also includes measures to safeguard Isola del Giglio's tourism industry and wider economy.

"Salvage workers' presence will not have any significant impact on the availability of hotel accommodation for the summer season. The operating base will be located away from the island, on the mainland near Piombino, where equipment and materials will be stored, thereby avoiding any impact on the island's port activities."

Once the removal of the wreck is complete, the sea bed will be cleaned and marine flora replanted, the company said. And once floated, the wreck will be towed to an Italian port and dealt with "in accordance with the requirements of the Italian authorities".

Silvio Bartolotti, general manager of Micoperi, described the project as "unprecedented". Costa Crociere president Gianni Onorato said: "Right from the early stages of the accident, Costa Crociere has been fully committed in terms of its resources, professional expertise and organisation to minimising the impact of the shipwreck on the environment and on Isola del Giglio in particular.

"We have always worked to find the best possible and safest solution to protect the island, its marine environment and its tourism industry. We are now launching a salvage operation with characteristics and technical complexities that have never been faced before. There will inevitably be some unknowns in a project of this scope, but we are sure we have made the right decision and will continue to work to our best ability and on schedule."

The Costa Concordia ran into a reef and capsized on January 13 after Captain Francesco Schettino made an unauthorised diversion from his programmed route. He was arrested and accused of manslaughter, causing a shipwreck and abandoning his ship.

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