Dalby plays key role in helping to raise stricken cruise ship

A YORKSHIRE-based firm is playing a key role in helping to salvage the Costa Concordia cruise ship, which sank off the Italian coast earlier this year with the loss of 32 lives.

Dalby Offshore, which is based in Beverley, East Yorkshire, has been awarded a multi-million dollar contract to be part of an international team that will salvage and raise the ill-fated ship, which lies near the island of Giglio.

The Costa Concordia ran aground on a reef, took on water and capsized on January 13.

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Passengers described a confused and delayed evacuation, with many of the lifeboats unable to be lowered after the boat listed to one side.

Some of the 4,200 people on board jumped into the Mediterranean and swam to the island, while others had to be plucked from the vessel by rescue helicopters hours after the collision.

Work has begun to remove the tons of rocky reef embedded into the Concordia’s hull, a first step in plans to eventually tow the wreck away from the island.

The whole removal process is expected to take as long as a year.

Stuart McNiven, the managing director and majority shareholder in Dalby Offshore, said the work was of a “highly sensitive” nature, because three bodies are still believed to be on board.

He added: “Our involvement is ramping up on a daily basis, and we will have numerous marine assets on site over the coming weeks.

“By early November, we will have up to 80 personnel on site.

“The focal point of our operation will be the ASV Pioneer, a large accommodation barge operated and managed by Dalby on behalf of Ferguson Modular, an Aberdeen based-group.

“The barge will have a grout manufacturing plant on board, which will produce 30,000 tonnes to place under the Concordia and stabilise the vessel.

“The Pioneer will have 120 personnel and is one of the key assets in the overall project.

“We expect to start operations in mid October and be on site for many months.” Mr McNiven described the project, which is being led by international firm Titan and Italian company Micorperi, as “unprecedented and highly complex”.

The project to salvage and raise the Costa Concordia is expected to be completed in 2013, and the overall removal costs are estimated at $500m.

Mr McNiven said: “The vessel is lying on an underwater slope with a large void underneath it.

“Dalby’s role in conjunction with its partner, Found Ocean (another UK company which was introduced to the project by Dalby) is to stabilise the hull and prepare the seabed for lifting the whole ship upright, a feat never tried before in marine salvage.”

The first phase of the operation to right the vessel, will include the construction of a sub-sea platform. Two cranes will be installed on the platform to pull the vessel upright.

He added: “This shows how a Yorkshire based SME (small and medium-sized enterprise) is able to secure a major contract in the face of very stiff international competition.”

Dalby specialises in working with major offshore renewable energy projects.

Over the last year, it has made a £10m investment in a fleet of high specification crew transfer vessels.

Mr McNiven added: “These vessels are working in the emerging offshore renewable market in the UK and on the continent.

“One of these vessels will sail to Italy in the near future to help with personnel transfer operations from the island of Giglio to the mainland.”

He said the area around the stricken Costa Concordia had a large number of rare sea animals, which meant the salvage workers had to be careful not to harm the environment.

Last month, court-appointed experts blamed the captain of the Costa Concordia cruise ship for the disaster.

They also found fault with the crew and ship owner for a series of blunders, delays and security breaches. Capt Francesco Schettino is accused of causing the shipwreck, manslaughter and abandoning the ship before all passengers were evacuated.

Eight other people are also under investigation, and the court in Grosseto ordered the expert investigation to help it determine which if any should be put on trial. A hearing is scheduled for this month.

Some passengers said they were shocked to see Schettino already ashore when they were being evacuated. Schettino claims he helped direct the evacuation from the island after leaving the ship.

The experts said ship owner Costa Crociere delayed alerting coastal authorities about the emergency – a charge Costa has denied.