Costa Cruises' Costa Concordia ran aground off the coast of Italy on Jan. 13, 2012.(Photo: Pier Paolo Cito AP)
A daring attempt to pull the shipwrecked ocean liner Costa Concordia upright began early Monday, 20 months after the ship capsized off the Italian coast.
Thunderstorms and lightning delayed the operation by around two hours, but at around 9 a.m. local time (4 a.m. ET) Italian officials gave the all clear for the 500-strong team of engineers to begin moving the giant vessel.
The cruise ship has lain partly submerged in shallow waters off the Tuscan island of Giglio since the accident in January 2012 which left at least 30 people dead.
An international team of engineers and mechanics has worked tirelessly for months with one goal in mind: removing the 114,500-ton ship firmly stuck to two outcrops of rock on the seabed.
The project is considered one the most complex and costly maritime salvage operations ever attempted.
The a so-called "parbuckling" operation will see the ship rotated by a series of cranes and hydraulic machines, pulling the hulk from above and below and slowly twisting it upright.
They hope to roll the ship off the seabed and onto underwater platforms in the delicate operation that is expected to take up to 12 hours.
The plan is for the ship to eventually by towed away for scrap, probably next spring.
The liner hit a rock when it maneuvered too close to the island, prompting a chaotic evacuation of more than 4,000 passengers and crew.
Salvage workers will look for the bodies of two people, an Italian and an Indian unaccounted for since the disaster, as machines haul the ship upright and underwater cameras comb the seabed.
According to The Associated Press, engineers have dismissed as a "remote" possibility the chance that the Concordia might break apart during rotation and no longer be sound enough to be towed to the mainland to be turned into scrap.
Divers have already pumped about 20,000 tons of cement into bags below the ship to support it and prevent this from happening.
The ship's owner last week estimated the cost of the salvage operation at $795 million "and rising."
Captain Francesco Schettino has been charged with multiple counts of manslaughter and causing the wreck.
Five others, including two bridge officers and the ship's hotel director, pleaded guilty to manslaughter and negligence in July.