Ship horns blared yesterday as the wrecked Costa Concordia cruise liner was towed into the Italian port of Genoa to be scrapped 21/2 years after it capsized in a tragedy that claimed 32 lives.
The hulking vessel, about twice the size of the Titanic, was towed into port after a four-day, 280km journey from the disaster site off the Tuscan island of Giglio.
"This is not a runway show. It's the end of a story in which many people died, which none of us will ever forget," Prime Minister Matteo Renzi said as he gazed up at the ship's towering white flanks, tinged with rust, looming over the quayside.
"I have come to say thank you to those who have done something that everyone said was not possible," he said.
Fears the damaged hull would break up under the strain, spilling waste into Europe's biggest marine sanctuary, proved unfounded; dolphins joined the convoy of environmental experts in welcoming the ship into Genoa.
Environment Minister Gian Luca Galletti said it was time to "finally breathe a sigh of relief".
The once-luxury liner arrived overnight and dropped anchor about two nautical miles offshore, where engineers attached it to several tugboats that manoeuvred it into Genoa's Voltri port around midday.
"It's a beautiful sight, exceptional. We're really emotional and proud," said an engineer who had spent months preparing the ship for its final voyage.
Crowds gathered to see the remains of the battered ship, which crashed into rocks off Giglio in January 2012 with 4,229 people from 70 countries on board.
Interior furnishings and fittings will be stripped out to make the vessel light enough to tow into the scrapping area, where it will be divided into three parts for dismantling.
Workers will start by removing what is left of beds, televisions, fridges and sofas in once-resplendent cabins and glitzy restaurants, bars and casinos.
For Genoa - former maritime power and home to explorer Christopher Columbus - the contract to dismantle the ship is a boost in a period of economic crisis, creating hundreds of jobs in the city for a 22-month period.
The salvage operation to recover the Concordia was the biggest ever attempted and is expected to cost in the region of €1.5 billion (HK$15.6 billion).
The remains of the 114,500-tonne liner will not simply be thrown away: more than 80 per cent of it is expected to be recycled or reused.
Between 40,000 and 50,000 tonnes of steel will be melted down and reused in the construction industry - or possibly for building a new ship - while undamaged copper wiring, plumbing, plastics, machinery and furniture will be sold.
Personal belongings recovered on the lower decks will be returned to owners while items such as the piano - which was being played as the liner hit the rocks - may end up in a museum.
One of the first tasks will be to search for the body of Indian waiter Russel Rebello, whose remains were never found and may have been trapped in a previously inaccessible part of the ship.
Built in 2005 in the Sestri Ponente Finantieri yard in Genoa, the Concordia was the largest Italian cruise ship in history at the time of its launch - but was considered unlucky by some from the start. At a floating ceremony in 2006 attended by Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone - Pope Benedict's number two - the champagne bottle swung against the hull failed to smash, a bad omen.
Images of the vast vessel on its side off Giglio went around the world, and its captain Francesco Schettino was dubbed Italy's "most hated" after he escaped in a lifeboat while passengers threw themselves into the sea.
Schettino is on trial for manslaughter, causing a shipwreck, and abandoning the vessel before all passengers had evacuated.
January 13: The liner sets sail from Civitavecchia near Rome, carrying 4,229 people from 70 countries. The ship strikes a rocky outcrop off Giglio, after captain Francesco Schettino orders a sail-by "salute" near the Tuscan island. People jump into the freezing waters to escape, while Schettino is found ashore.
January 14: Prosecutors detain Schettino and his first officer on charges of manslaughter and abandoning ship. Schettino is placed under house arrest three days later.
January 17: Passengers in several countries start lodging suits against Costa Crociere, the ship's owner, which on January 27 agrees to pay uninjured passengers at least €11,000 (HK$115,000) each in compensation.
September 13: A pre-trial report says Costa may have failed to act promptly in the disaster, while still heaping much of the blame on Schettino - dubbed "Captain Coward" in the local press.
April 10: Costa Crociere accepts limited responsibility for the disaster and is controversially fined just €1 million.
July 17: The trial of Schettino begins in the city of Grosseto.
July 20: A court accepts plea bargains for five other suspects - four crew members and Costa Crociere's emergency unit executive - who receive prison sentences ranging from 18 months to 34 months.
September 17: The ship, which weighs 114,500 tonnes and is the length of almost three soccer fields, is hoisted upright in the biggest ever salvage operation of a passenger ship, over the course of 20 hours.
May 6: The salvage, which was planned for June, is delayed after a giant flotation tank attached to the wreck falls off.
June 30: The government chooses the port of Genoa for the scrapping operation, slated to cost around €100 million.
July 14: The ship is floated off the underwater platform on which it has been resting, for the first time since the crash.
July 27: After a four-day journey up the coast of Italy, the liner is towed into the port of Genoa where it will be dismantled over two years.