Rome: The refloating of Italy`s ill-fated Costa Concordia cruise ship is set to begin on Monday, and the body of one of the victims, Indian waiter Russel Rebello, still missing may be found during the dismantling of the vessel.
Two and a half years after it sank off the island of Giglio in a nighttime disaster that left 32 people dead, the plan is to raise and tow away the 114,500-tonne vessel in an unprecedented and delicate operation.
"The most critical phase will be the first day, raising the wreck for the first time. Refloating a passenger ship this large has never been attempted before," South African Nick Sloane, who is in charge of the salvage, told a news agency.
The 290-metre ship was rotated upright in September and is now sitting on an underwater platform.
Thirty tanks or "sponsons" that have been welded to the sides will work as a pneumatic system to raise it.
Under the gaze of the world`s media, the operation is expected to start on Monday with workers pumping compressed air into the sponsons to lift the Concordia by two metres.
The environmental committee overseeing the operation gave a preliminary go-ahead today but said that final confirmation would come on Sunday, depending on the weather.
The operation is to begin at 0830 IST (0400 GMT) on Monday.
In a worst-case scenario, some environmentalists warn the hull could break apart and spill its rotting innards into what is one of Europe`s largest marine sanctuaries.
"We`re talking about a floating city kitted out for thousands of passengers, with gallons of pollutants such as oils, detergents and sewage chemicals still inside," said Giorgia Monti from Greenpeace, which is sending an observation team to monitor the operation.
The body of one of the victims, Indian waiter Russel Rebello, is still missing and his remains may be found during the refloating or dismantling of the vessel.
The four-day journey to Genoa is fraught with possible environmental hazards, with warnings that some of the 100 tonnes of fuel and 263,000 cubic metres (69.5 million gallons) of polluted water flooding its lower decks could leak out.
After the initial lift, tug boats would drag the wreck 30 metres east and secure it in place before it is slowly buoyed another 10 metres, with engineers checking each deck for fresh structural damage as they emerge.
All maritime traffic in the area -- which includes a popular beach resort -- will be blocked during the most delicate phases.