IT/OT/ET Convergence Raised the Costa Concordia

By Paula Hollywood

Industry Trends

If you haven’t seen it, the documentary The Raising of the Costa Concordia it is must see TV.  Old news, perhaps, but what a marvel of engineering!  The largest maritime salvage operation in history would not even have been a possibility twenty or even ten years ago – the technology was just not available.  The operation wasn’t referred to as IIoT, the term was not used as extensively as it is only two years later, but it is a brilliant example of IT/OT/ET (information technology/ operational technology/engineering technology) convergence to manage and integrate process and information flows that required 48,000 engineering man hours, 1,200 workers, 22 vessels, and 8 barges to execute.

The project’s objective was to remove the wreck in one piece with minimal risk and environmental impact while protecting the region’s economy, tourism industry, and safety. Although full engineering, system details, etc. are not in the public domain, for anyone in the “biz” it isn’t difficult to appreciate the complexity, precise coordination, and risk involved in such an undertaking.  Compounding the risk, was the decision to employ a process called parbuckling to roll the ship back to an upright position.  Parbuckling had never been performed on a ship the size of the Costa Concordia, three football fields long and weighing 114,500 gross tons.

The salvage team left very little to chance. The job of unloading the 2,300 tons diesel fuel alone required 100 experts 31 days with the assistance of three super computers, 20 platforms, tugs, transport ships, crane barges, tankers and oil spill response vessels.  Engineering and modeling software enabled the team to overcome the myriad of challenges.  Simulators enabled workers to virtually perform tasks in preparation for the real thing.  Divers were given instructions in mountain climbing to familiarize themselves with working at an angle as they worked to safely scale the structure.  Planning and scheduling were critical.  Logistics played a huge role complicated by the sheer size of the refloating components.  Sponsons or metal boxes used to create buoyancy were not interchangeable.  Each one was designed and constructed for a specific location and installed within tolerances of two inches making correct order of delivery crucial to keep the project moving and avoid delays.  Reliable communications among the various teams was a must to not only coordinate activities, but to ensure worker safety.  Getting the right people to the job site and keeping the team consistent for the duration of the project was also a challenge.

33,000 tons of steel were required to construct and fabricate all the components for refloating. Underwater remotely operated vehicles (ROV) recorded over 50,000 hours of video to gain as much visibility as possible into the state of the wreck and enable comparison to design drawings as correct positioning of refloating components was critical to keeping the wreck intact.  Without access to the complete set of engineering and construction information, projects costs and risks would most certainly have escalated.  As the project progressed, the volume of information to be incorporated in the digital environment increased as did the number of stakeholders needing access to that information.

On July 14, 2014, two and half years later, the refloating operation commenced. Along with the crew the world collectively held its breath, but the risky operation was working.  It took another four days to complete the deballasting process and secure the wreck for towing to the scrap yard.  Total costs of refloating and towing were estimated at $2 billion, more than it cost to build the ship.  One insurance executive compared the costs and complexities of this mission as the equivalent of the first moon landing.  Certainly, an engineer’s delight!!

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