The Salvage Process of Costa Concordia

By ThinkReliability Staff

On September 16, 2013, the fatally stricken Costa Concordia was lifted upright (known as “parbuckling”) after salvage operations that were the most expensive and involved the largest ship ever. The ship ran aground off the coast of Italy January 13, 2012 (see our previous blog about the causes of the ship running aground) and has been lying on its side for the 20 months since.

The ship grounding had immediate, catastrophic impacts, including the death of 32 people. However, it also had longer term impacts, mainly pollution from the fuel, sewage and other hazardous materials stored aboard the ship. It was determined that the best way to minimize the leakage from the ship would be to return it upright and tow it to port, where it the onboard waste could be emptied and disposed of, then the ship broken up for scrap.

Because a salvage operation of this magnitude (due to the size and location of the ship) had never been attempted, careful planning was necessary. Processes like this salvage operation can be described in a Process Map, which visually diagrams the steps that need to be taken for a process to be completed successfully. A Process Map differs from a Cause Map, which visually diagrams cause-and-effect relationships to show the causes that led to the impacts (such as the deaths and pollution). Whereas a Cause Map reads backwards in time (the impacted goals result from the causes, which generally must precede those impacts), a Process Map reads from left to right along with time. (Step 1 is to the left of, and must be performed before, Step 2.) In both cases, arrows indicate the direction of time.

Like a Cause Map, Process Maps can be built in varying levels of detail. In a complex process, many individual steps will consist of more detailed steps. Both a high level overview of a process, as a well as a more detailed breakdown, can be useful when developing a process. Processes can be used as part of the analysis step of an incident investigation – to show which steps in a process did not go well – or as part of the solutions – to show how a process developed as a solution should be implemented.

In the example of the salvaging of the Costa Concordia, we use the Process Map for the latter. The salvaging process is part of the solutions – how to remove the ship while minimizing further damage and pollution. This task was not easy – uprighting the ship (only the first step in the salvage process) took 19 hours, involved 500 crewmembers from 26 countries and cost nearly $800 million. Other options used for similar situations included blowing up the ship or taking it apart on-site. Because of the hazardous substances onboard – and the belief that two bodies are still trapped under or inside the ship – these options were considered unacceptable.

Instead, a detailed plan was developed to prepare for leakage with oil booms that held sponges and skirts, then installed an underwater platform and 12 turrets to aid in the parbuckling and hold the ship upright. The ship was winched upright using 36 cables and is being held steady on the platform with computer-controlled chains until Spring, when the ship will be floated off the platform and delivered to Sicily to be taken apart.

To view the Process Map in varying levels of detail, please click “Download PDF” above. Or, see the Cause Map about the grounding of the ship in our previous blog.