The stricken Costa Concordia cruise liner, which lies partially submerged near the coast of Giglio, will spend another winter in the waters off the tiny Tuscan island.
The consortium hired to re-float and remove the 114,500-ton ship presented this month a new timeline to the Osservatorio, the entity supervising the wreck salvage operations.
Originally scheduled for completion by January 2013, the removal plan was delayed until next spring.
According to a Costa Cruises statement, Pompano Beach-based Titan Salvage and Italian marine firm Micoperi, the companies engaged in the salvage operation, "believe the new schedule is a realistic estimate."
The Concordia struck a rock and capsized on Jan. 13 near Giglio after captain Francesco Schettino allegedly drove the ship on an unauthorized route too close to shore, ripping a huge gash in the hull. Tumbled onto its side with more than 4,200 people aboard, the ship claimed 32 lives.
To complete what is considered the largest re-float in history, Titan will rely on underwater platforms on the seaward side of the ship. Watertight boxes, or caissons, will be then fixed to the side of the ship that is above water.
"Two cranes fixed to the platform will pull the ship upright, helped by the weight of the caissons, which will be filled with water," Titan said.
On the other side, cables attached to the land will ensure the ship does not slide off the platform.
"When the ship is upright, caissons will be fixed to the other side of the hull to stabilize it. Finally, the caissons on both sides will be emptied, after the water inside has been purified to protect the marine environment, and filled with air," the U.S. company said.
Sandwiched between the caissons, the Costa Concordia will be towed to an unnamed Italian port for dismantling.
Titan clarified that the new schedule for the salvage operation, which is set to cost more than $300 million, is "dependent in part upon subcontractor deliverables and schedules."
Despite the reassurances, the delay has raised concerns among environmental organizations, ship experts and Giglio residents.
"It's the shift that worries us. We are not talking of the time schedule, but of the ship," said Angelo Gentili of the environmental group Legambiente.
Sprawled on the rocks, the giant carcass of the Costa Concordia has been attracting thousand of tourists this summer. A number of outfits are advertising trips to get up close to the capsized ship.
"In a few months, it will be a different story. Spending another winter at the mercy of winds and waves certainly won't help," Carlo Barbini, a former captain on cruise liners who also worked as a ship inspection surveyor for the court of Livorno, told Discovery News.
The 950-foot-long, 116-foot-wide, 114,500-ton cruise liner has been suspended for the past eight months in a precarious position, with the bow and stern sitting on two rocks. In between is a sandy slope that drops at a 20 percent angle toward deep sea.
"I believe a structural collapse of the ship's beam and a plunge into deep waters is very likely," Capt. Barbini said.
Barbini, who wrote a detailed report and sent it to the mayor of Giglio, believes that the riskiest moment will be the rolling of the vessel and the subsequent refloating.
His worries are partly confirmed by a little-publicized report by Costa Cruises. Written last May, the 148-page report admits that the ship is progressively warping and that the bow has sunk by more than 35 inches.
According to the daily Il Tirreno, the report confirmed that the two pieces of rock on which the ship balances have worrisome cracks.
"Computer models have shown that 5-foot waves, which are likely to occur in winter, can produce a real risk of deep plunging," the report read.
The event would be catastrophic, with "polluting materials" spilling in the island's pristine waters.
Although more than 2,200 cubic meters of heavy fuel have been safely pumped out of the ship, the report revealed that some 243 cubic meters of fuel, declared unpumpable, remain in the Concordia's most inaccessible tanks.
"The entire wreck-removal operation is filled with risky moments. Refloating and towing away safely such a wreck sounds like a miracle to me. It's pretty much like Lazarus walking out of the grave," Barbini said.