By Eleanor Biles
GIGLIO Italy (Reuters) - The wreck of the luxury liner Costa Concordia was re-floated on Monday and will soon be towed away and broken up for scrap, more than two years after it capsized off the Italian coast, killing 32 people.
The 290-meter Costa Concordia ran aground on rocks near the Tuscan holiday island of Giglio on Jan. 13, 2013. The rusting hulk of the once-gleaming-white ship had been resting on a temporary platform since being righted a year ago.
In what has become one of the largest salvage operations in history, air was pumped into 30 large metal boxes, or sponsons, attached around the hull of the 114,500 tonne ship. The air forced out the water in the sponsons, lifting the vessel off the underwater platform.
Franco Porcellachia, the engineer in charge of the salvage, said at a news conference around seven hours after the operation began that the hulk had been raised two metres out of the water.
Tug boats attached with cables to the ship then started shifting it away from the shore. "I would say we are halfway through our plan to move the ship," Porcellachia said.
Later on Monday, the vessel will be stabilised with chains and cables. Work will start again on Tuesday to prepare it for towing within days to Genoa in northern Italy, to be scrapped.
Porcellachia said the sixth deck of the ship had started to emerge on Monday, and once that was fully above the water the other decks would become visible in quick succession.
"When deck 3 re-emerges we are in the final stage and ready for departure," Porcellachia said. The wreck is due to depart Giglio on July 21.
The ship's captain, Francesco Schettino, is on trial on charges of manslaughter, causing a shipwreck as he sailed too close to shore to "salute" the port, and abandoning ship. He is fighting the charges.
Once the Concordia has left Giglio, the search will continue for the body of the last person who was aboard the Concordia the night it sank and has not been accounted for.
"We are undertaking an operation that will close a dramatic chapter for our country," Italian Environment Minister Gian Luca Galletti said at the news conference.
Paying for the disaster, including breaking up the vessel and repairing the damage to Giglio, is likely to cost the ship's owner and operator Costa Crociere, a unit of Carnival Corp, more than 1.5 billion euros ($2.05 billion), its chief executive said last week.
The cruise liner will be demolished and scrapped in Genoa by a consortium including oil services company Saipem and Genoa-based companies Mariotti and San Giorgio.
(Writing by Philip Pullella and Isla Binnie; Editing by Kevin Liffey)