Wrecked cruise ship floating again, but victim still missing

(CNN) — The last time anyone saw Russel Rebello alive, he was near the stern of the Costa Concordia, helping passengers into rescue boats.

But the 33-year-old waiter from India never escaped the doomed cruise ship. And he’s the only victim of the 2012 shipwreck whose remains haven’t been found.

Investigators hope that could change soon. On Monday morning, salvage crews began the arduous task of trying to refloat the ship so they can move it to the Italian port of Genoa to be dismantled.

It’s been more than two and a half years since the ship ran aground off Italy’s Giglio Island with more than 4,200 passengers aboard, killing 32 people in a disaster that drew global attention.

And it’s been 10 months since salvage teams rolled the 114,000-ton vessel off the rocks in one of the most complex shipwreck recovery efforts ever undertaken.

But there’s still more work to be done.

“We are not at the end, but we are at a critical moment,” Giglio Mayor Sergio Ortelli told reporters.

For the past 10 months, engineers have been hard at work, attaching metal boxes to either side of the ship.

Now they will try to drain the water from the boxes. In its place, they’ll pump compressed air, causing the ship to float.

At first, they’ll raise it just 2 meters (6.5 feet).

It’s a dangerous and tricky procedure. The ship is rotting, and there’s a real risk the bottom of it could give way.

They’ll then tug the Concordia about 30 meters to the east, and lower some of the metal boxes on the starboard side of the ship. They’ll attach more chains and cables to help reinforce the bottom.

Then the full refloat begins, lifting the Concordia up, deck by deck, clearing any debris along the way.

Once the ship is completely floated, they’ll tow it — slowly and carefully — 240 kilometers (150 miles) to Genoa.

Officials say it’s likely the towing process won’t start for days, due to port restrictions. It will take five to six days for the ship to reach Genoa, officials said.

Giglio Mayor Sergio OrtelliMichael Thamm, president of Costa Crociere, called the operation “the most daunting salvage ever attempted on a ship of its size.”

Since the wreck two years ago, 24 metric tonnes of debris, including furniture, dishes, food, personal effects and ship parts, have been recovered from the seabed.

While salvage crews continue efforts to deal with the wreckage, Francesco Schettino, the ship’s captain, is on trial on charges of manslaughter, causing a maritime disaster and abandoning ship with passengers still on board. He denies wrongdoing.

Search teams thought they had found Rebello’s remains last October. But the body divers found turned out to be Maria Grazia Trecarichi, a Sicilian had been on the cruise to celebrate her 50th birthday with her 17-year-old daughter, who survived