Globe-trotting South African behind Italy ship salvage

After rescuing a burning ship from pirate-infested waters off Yemen and a sinking oil rig in the Gulf of Mexico, South African salvage master Nick Sloane faces his biggest test off an idyllic Mediterranean island.

The 52-year-old says the attempt to raise the Costa Concordia cruise ship from its watery grave, due to begin on Monday, is his "most challenging" yet in a career that has taken him to six continents and two warzones.

The Zambia-born Sloane was flown to the Italian island of Giglio last year from New Zealand, where he was working on a spill from the MV Rena oil tanker, for the biggest ever salvage operation of a passenger ship.

He has led an international operation with 500 salvage workers including divers, welders and engineers operating 24 hours a day around the rusting 290-metre (951-foot) hulk, which is bigger than the Titanic.

When the lifting of the 114,500-tonne ship gets under way, Sloane will be the one giving the commands from a control room on the shore and monitoring the unprecedented operation through eight monitors.

The ruddy salvage master hit a low point last year when storms hampered the operation and there were serious difficulties drilling into the granite seabed to install a metal platform to hold the ship stable.

"There was a lot of questioning. 'Are you sure it's going to work?' 'This is crazy!'" he remembers.

Work has sped up since then and Sloane has said he is confident of success, while remaining realistic

The most serious risk is buckling in the hull as the luxury liner is dragged upright, which Sloane has compared to a "banana" effect -- the extent of which will only become clear as the operation is underway.

"There's a lot of unknown factors about the ship. We've made a lot of assumptions," he admits.

Sloane has warned that the hull is slowly compressing in on itself and that now is the last chance to lift the Costa Concordia before it collapses too much.

"You can't afford to wait. Time is your worst enemy," he says, warning about the large swells expected once winds known as the sirocco hit the island in autumn.

Sloane, who had initially hoped to right the ship in time to float it in time for US Independence Day on July 4 with a big fireworks display, said he had a celebratory cigar at the ready.

"I'm going to stand on deck and smoke this as she's finally towed away," he told AFP during one recent visit, pulling the cigar out of his pocket at a port-side bar.

Sloane is no stranger to spectacular accidents at sea.

He began his career in 1980 working on the tugs of Safmarine, a South African salvage company.

His first major job was the salvage of the Castillo de Bellver, a burning Spanish tanker filled with 252,000 tonnes of crude stranded off the coast of South Africa.

He worked his way up the ranks in the industry and was promoted to the position of salvage master in 1991.

He was part of a team that went in with the US Navy's salvage division to repair damaged pipelines and oil infrastructure in Afghanistan and Iraq immediately after the US-led invasions and has worked in Russia to build a giant oil pipeline for Kazakh crude.

He has dealt with accidents that caused some of the worst oil spills in the world in recent years.

In 2011, he was involved in a risky operation when he helped secure the Brillante Virtuoso tanker, which was attacked by pirates off Yemen and set on fire.

Sloane is a consummate raconteur and is fond of showing off pictures on his mobile phone immortalising moments of bravado in far-flung parts of the world.

The Costa Concordia project appears mild in comparison but there has been pressure from environmentalists over the potential for toxic spillage as the ship is being raised in what is a pristine marine sanctuary.

While there are no golf courses to keep up his favourite hobby, there is at least some solace for the work hard, play hard South African: the location is Tuscany, homeland of his favourite Chianti wine.

--

Did you know that you can get stories like this on the Yahoo mail app?
Download it here.

Latest News

  • Advertisers ditch TLC's troubled '19 Kids and Counting'
    Advertisers ditch TLC's troubled '19 Kids and Counting'

    By Daina Beth Solomon and Mary Milliken LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - Four advertisers pulled out of TLC's reality show "19 Kids and Counting," putting pressure on the U.S. cable network to decide the fate of the top-rated programme about a Christian family after reports that the eldest son had molested underage girls. Retailers Walgreen Co and Payless Shoesource Inc, and hotel chain group Choice Hotels International Inc on Tuesday followed the lead of General Mills Inc in removing their ads …

  • U.S. playwright, actor Sam Shepard arrested on drunken driving charge
    U.S. playwright, actor Sam Shepard arrested on drunken driving charge

    (Reuters) - Actor and Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright Sam Shepard was arrested in New Mexico on suspicion of drunken driving, police said on Tuesday. Shepard, 71, told police he had consumed roughly two tequila drinks at a downtown Santa Fe restaurant on Monday evening, police spokeswoman Andrea Dobyns said. Shepard was booked into the Santa Fe County Jail on a charge of aggravated driving while intoxicated, according to online records. …

  • Singapore's foreign maids exploited by agents, employers
    Singapore's foreign maids exploited by agents, employers

    By Astrid Zweynert SINGAPORE (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - The promise of a salary five times what she could make at home prompted Nabila to leave Indonesia and her family for a job as a domestic worker in Singapore. What she did not realise was that it would be eight months before she earned a cent because of deductions made by the employment agency that brought her to Singapore. "I came to Singapore because I need money for my two children so that they can go to school. …

  • Broadway 2014-2015 season is best ever with $1.36 billion in grosses

    Broadway enjoyed its highest-grossing season in history with $1.36 billion in 2014-2015 and audience attendance topping 13.1 million, the Broadway League said on Tuesday. "It's been an extraordinary season on Broadway, and I'm thrilled that we have broken all records," Broadway League President Charlotte St. Martin said in a statement. …

  • Judge to hold hearing on whether Shakira's copyright accuser lied
    Judge to hold hearing on whether Shakira's copyright accuser lied

    By Andrew Chung NEW YORK (Reuters) - A U.S. judge who ruled that pop star Shakira's 2010 hit single "Loca" was an illegal copy of a Dominican songwriter's work now says the songwriter may have lied on the stand and is prepared to head to Puerto Rico to sort out the truth. U.S. District Judge Alvin Hellerstein said in federal court in Manhattan on Tuesday that new evidence presented by two Sony Corp units, the defendants in the case, have caused him to "lose trust" in the trial testimony. …

  • Jessica Lange to return to Broadway in 'Long Day's Journey Into Night'
    Jessica Lange to return to Broadway in 'Long Day's Journey Into Night'

    Two-time Oscar winner Jessica Lange will return to Broadway next year in a revival of American playwright Eugene O'Neill's masterpiece "Long Day's Journey Into Night," the Roundabout Theatre Company said on Tuesday. The Pulitzer Prize-winning play, which will be part of the theatre company's 50th anniversary season, will be Lange's third time on Broadway. "Long Day's Journey Into Night" will begin previews on March 31, 2016, and officially open on April 19, the company said. …

  • Macau casinos seek resort cure for China gambling hangover
    Macau casinos seek resort cure for China gambling hangover

    By Farah Master HONG KONG (Reuters) - As revenue plummets at China's only legal gambling hub, global casino operators have a new mantra - what happens in Vegas, must also happen in Macau. Diversifying into hotels, entertainment and retail is the only game in town for companies like Melco Crown Entertainment Ltd and Galaxy Entertainment Group . Nevada's casino giants blazed a trail in 1999, as Las Vegas sought to shed its 'Sin City' image and become a tourist destination, and non-gaming now …

  • Luxottica sets its sights on restoring Venice bridge

    The Italian eyewear group Luxottica will pay to restore and maintain the only wooden bridge over Venice's Grand Canal, becoming the latest in a string of private companies to put money into Italy's fragile landmarks. The Ray Ban maker has pledged 1.7 million euros ($1.85 million) to renovate the 48-metre Ponte dell'Accademia, which crosses from the lagoon city's main island to its south bank. Vittorio Zappalorto, Venice's special commissioner since its mayor resigned in a corruption scandal …

Loading...