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Costa Concordia: How ill-fated cruise liner was raised from Italian seabed

September 17, 2013 -- Updated 1123 GMT (1923 HKT)
  • Wreck of the Costa Concordia, one of the largest cruise ships ever built, raised from sea bed
  • 952-foot ship ran aground in January 2012 on Tuscan island of Giglio, killing 32 passengers
  • Unprecedented operation involves more than 500 workers, will cost at least $400 million
  • Raising of Concordia is only first phase -- ship must then be dismantled at nearby port

(CNN) -- It's been 19 months since the Costa Concordia, one of the largest cruise liners ever built, ran aground off the west coast of Italy, killing 32 passengers and capsizing after granite rock tore a 50-meter hole in the ship's hull.

Now the rotting 952-foot wreck has been raised from its partially-submerged resting place off the Tuscan island of Giglio in what engineers say is a risky and unprecedented operation.

The salvage team used cables attached to hydraulic pumps to rotate the ship upright -- a process known as "parbuckling" -- from the seabed onto a platform, which consists of a series of cement bags and huge under-water steel structure.

After repairs are made to the previously submerged side of the Concordia, giant steel "caissons," or boxes, on the sides of the ship will be pumped full of air and the cruise liner will theoretically float to the surface and be towed to a nearby seaport -- hopefully all in one piece.

READ: What's inside of wrecked cruise ship?

Raising the Costa Concordia
Incredible drone video of Costa Concordia
The refloated wreck of the Costa Concordia is towed to the Italian port of Genoa on Sunday, July 27, to be scrapped, ending the ship's final journey two and a half years after it capsized at a cost of 32 lives. The refloated wreck of the Costa Concordia is towed to the Italian port of Genoa on Sunday, July 27, to be scrapped, ending the ship's final journey two and a half years after it capsized at a cost of 32 lives.
The Costa Concordia disaster
Photos: The Costa Concordia disaster Photos: The Costa Concordia disaster

Success was anything but guaranteed: Engineers had warned they would only have one shot at parbuckling the ship -- and any error during the hours-long process could have seen the ship break apart, or over-rotate off the underwater platforms and sink completely.

More than 500 people have been working around the clock on the rescue, which is being overseen by Florida-based Titan Salvage and the Italian firm Micoperi. The final bill will be at least $400 million, according to the salvage project's website.

But the raising of the Concordia is far from the end of the story. The bodies of two passengers are still yet to be retrieved from the wreckage of the $570 million ship, which was carrying more than 4,200 passengers and crew when it struck the granite rocks off Giglio on January 13, 2012.

READ: Has master mariner in charge of salvage met his match?

Even after the parbuckling and the repairs to the starboard side of the 114,500-ton vessel, the salvage crew will still have to wait for winter to pass before it can be towed to a nearby seaport to be taken apart.

It could also take years to fully restore Giglio's pristine waters and marine life to their previous state. The island is part of the Tuscan Archipelago National Park, the largest protected marine area in the Mediterranean.

Five members of the Concordia's staff were sentenced in July to short prison terms for their roles in the disaster.

Francesco Schettino, the ship's captain, is being tried separately on charges of manslaughter, causing a maritime disaster and abandoning ship. His trial is set to resume in late September.

READ: How cruise ship tragedy transformed an island paradise

CNN's Erin McLaughlin and CNN Wires contributed to this report.

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