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Italy's sunken ship towed away, more than two years after shipwrecking


ROME, July 23 (Xinhua) -- The wreck of Costa Concordia luxury cruise liner left the Italian island of Giglio and began its final journey towards the port of Genoa on Wednesday, where it will be dismantled.

Its departure, more than 30 months after a shipwreck that killed 32 people aboard, was accompanied by the sirens of the tugboats and vessels sailing around Giglio port.

Even the church bells chimed on the island, to mark a moment both tense and highly symbolic for Giglio's residents, survivals and relatives of the victims, and also for the mixed community of Italian and foreign experts who had been working for the removal of the huge wreck since April.

"This is a big day for Giglio Island and its people. As for us, we will really relax only when the ship has reached its final destination in Genoa," South African senior salvage master Nick Sloane said.

The departure had been delayed by one day. Previously planned for Tuesday, it was postponed to Wednesday due to difficult sea and weather conditions.

Then, in time with the new schedule, operations began on Wednesday morning at 06:00 local time with technicians operating last checks aboard. When they returned to the island, before the Concordia's departure, the salvage team workers were applauded warmly by dozens of people gathered on the shores and at the port to watch the ship leaving.

The Concordia's last journey began around 09:00, when the ship was first rotated and its prow pointed towards north. Then, a convoy of 14 vessels started to tow it to the port of Genoa some 200 nautical miles farther north.

Two main tugboats are actually dragging the wreck at a 700-800 meters distance, with the other vessels sailing at a double distance for security reasons.

Echoing Sloane's words, the chief of Italy's civil protection agency Franco Gabrielli also seemed both very proud for the work done and prudent for what is still to do.

"Today we can mark a point, but we will truly see the finish line only when we have reached Genoa," Gabrielli declared.

The 114,500 tons, 290-meter long Costa Concordia struck rocks off the island of Giglio in January 2012, and capsized few dozen meters off the shores, killing 32 people.

The huge wreck had to be first hauled up, then settled on submerged artificial platforms and secured in this position, and finally refloated. This entire operation was carried out by the Titan-Micoperi consortium and paid by Concordia's owning company Costa/Carnival. It will have an estimated cost of 1.5 billion euros (20 billion U.S. dollars), the company said.

Due to the wreck's size and the overall complexity of the task, the removal of Concordia was regarded as an unprecedented maritime salvage operation.

As Italian Civil protection chief Gabrielli recalled before departure, the body of one of the victims, Indian waiter Russel Rebello, has yet to be recovered. The wreckage also caused one more victim, a Spanish rescue diver who died earlier this year while working on a deck of the ship.

The convoy will now be sailing at a 2.5 knots speed, the salvage team had anticipated earlier this week, and it is expected to reach Genoa in four to five days. In that port, the huge rotten wreck of Concordia will be finally demolished and scrapped.