A Pompano Beach company founded more than 30 years ago is facing its biggest and most challenging job yet — the refloating of the Costa Concordia shipwreck.
At twice the size of the Titanic, the 114,500-ton Concordia is reportedly the biggest passenger vessel ever to wreck.
In April, Titan Salvage and its Italian partner Micoperi won the contract to upright and refloat the Costa Cruises cruise ship.
Today, 400-plus Titan-Micoperi crew members are working in shifts around the clock to accomplish the feat by summer’s end.
The estimated cost to refloat the ship is $400 million, according to the project’s official website theparbucklingproject.com.
The Concordia hit submerged rocks on Jan. 13, 2012 in waters off Giglio, Italy and overturned, killing 32 passenger and crew. The grounding was blamed on human error.
Titan was one of 10 companies worldwide invited to submit bids to upright the cruise ship operated by Costa Cruises, a unit of Miami-based Carnival Corp. & PLC.
The refloating requires watertight chambers called caissons to be attached to the ship’s side that’s above water, and cranes attached to the platform will then pull the ship upright, helped by the water-filled chambers.
Once on the platform, more caissons will be attached to the other side of its hull, and then the chambers will be drained and filled with air.
When upright, the Concordia will be towed to an Italian port to be scrapped.
“It’s a very difficult job that’s never been done before and the whole world is watching,” said Dick Fairbanks of Fort Lauderdale, a retired mechanical engineer and former Titan vice president, of the project.
Fairbanks joined Titan in 1988 and over a decade helped reshape the salvage firm as it expanded internationally.
Titan was founded in 1980 by the late David Parrot and later sold to Jacksonville-based marine transportation and logistics firm Crowley Maritime Corp. in 2005. It specializes in marine salvage and wreck removal and has about 50 full-time employees worldwide.
The company’s business model relies on brain power and mobility, company executives say.
It flies out specialized crews and compact equipment such as diving gear to salvage job sites, and contracts the heavy equipment it needs near the distressed vessels, Titan Managing Director Rich Habib said recently.
“We rent or charter cranes, tugs and barges wherever we go,” said Habib. “We were also the first to use computer ship modeling” in projects.
Titan’s business is also built on uncertainty.
“It’s an extremely difficult business, where you take a lot of risk,” said Habib, noting Titan can fork out millions of dollars on a salvage job upfront, and a paycheck isn’t always guaranteed. “If I don’t save the ship, I may not be paid.”
While Titan isn’t allowed to talk about the refloating project beyond what Costa has already sanctioned, Habib offered some insights about key crew members involved.
‘Titans’ in Giglio
Senior salvage master Nick Sloane, 51, is a freelancer from South Africa and “one of the top guys in the business,” Habib said. “Nick has succeeded on many jobs and is well regarded in the industry.”
The senior salvage master’s role in general is “to solve people’s problems,” Habib said. It’s a job that also requires “good technical underpinning” and the ability to “react well under pressure.”
Priorities of the job include safety of the team, saving property, where applicable, and minimizing environmental damage.
“This is, with the complexities and the amount of engineering — the scale of the equipment that we’re bringing in, the size of the teams… by far the largest [salvage project] that’s ever been done,” Sloane said in a CBS News 60 Minutes report in December.
Salvage master Guy Wood, 56, is a former Titan co-founder, who sold his share in Titan “a while back,” according to Habib. “He’s one of those guys around the world you can put in any situation.”
The Englishman and son of a sailor grew up at sea and worked on his father’s tugboat in England, according to a 1987 Sun Sentinel article. Wood worked for Titan from the early 1980s until 2001 and rejoined in 2009.
“It’s a challenge…it’s the high point of all of our lives I think. There’ll be nothing like it afterwards, and there’s been nothing quite like it before,” said Wood in an October CBS News interview of the Concordia project.
Assistant project manager Alvaro Guidotti, 51, is a Brazilian freelancer who’s worked with Titan for many years, Habib said. Guidotti speaks Italian and handles logistics and works with the authorities on the refloating project.
His salvage expertise balances and complements the skills of Micoperi project manager Sergio Girotto, Habib said. “I picked him right off the bat early on.”
(c)2013 Sun Sentinel (Fort Lauderdale, Fla.). Distributed by MCT Information Services.