After two and a half years, the shipwrecked Costa Concordia, whose tragic sinking off the Italian coast caught global attention, finally refloated to the surface last month with assistance from a Montgomery County-based company.
VideoRay L.L.C. of Pottstown supplied six Pro 4 remote operated vehicles (ROVs) systems, or "swimming underwater cameras," in the Concordia operation to help salvage the Italian cruise ship and survey its wreck.
The Costa Concordia struck an uncharted rock off the coast of Giglio Island in January 2012. The engine room flooded, causing the ship to capsize. It was the largest cruise ship ever to sink, killing 32 people after it flipped.
The raising of the Costa Concordia is considered the most complex single-ship salvage operation in history.
VideoRay ROVs were used first on the Concordia by the Italian Coast Guard to assist rescue divers looking for accident victims, and several bodies were recovered during this phase.
Scott Bentley, founder and owner of VideoRay, said that the ROVs also assisted and monitored human divers and surveyed wreck damage during the salvage phase, logging approximately 45,000 hours of footage.
"Without the technology, there would have been about 50,000 more hours and more divers needed [for the salvage]," said Bentley.
Along with the six ROVs, 500 workers from 26 countries, including 120 divers, made up the salvage crew. A majority of the crew was from marine salvage company Titan Salvage, which teamed up with VideoRay during the Concordia project.
Daniel Dolson, operations manager of Titan Salvage, said that the ROVs became the divers' best friends and that the technology allowed them to get a "broader view" of what was down below the water.
"The units were nicknamed 'the flying eyeball,' " said Dolson. "Wherever you wanted to take a look or see what was going on, you could send an ROV over and the diver can continue working."
The Pro 4 ROVs that were used in the salvage effort include updated ROV design and technology. The small camera built into the device takes high-definition stills underwater. The pictures and video footage are kept for documentation and imagery and can be used for future salvage projects.
The ROVs are computer-driven by software called VideoRay Cockpit, developed by VideoRay's engineers in 2009. The software is used for the Pro 4 ROVs, which debuted the same year.
VideoRay's ROVs are also used globally for a variety of other underwater documentation, including U.S. Coast Guard inspections, monitoring aquaculture, search and recovery, and for the offshore oil and gas industry.
According to the company, VideoRay is the dominant manufacturer of small observation class ROVs. Their size and portability were ideal for the Concordia project because they allow the ROVs to fit into different entry points, including the ship itself.
The ROVs also helped monitor manned dives 24/7, which increased diver safety during the ship salvage. Operators above water can use ROVs to see if there is any danger to the diver.
"We are trying to make their jobs safer and more productive," said Bentley. "Our proudest accomplishment is all the people who didn't get hurt [during the salvage]."
Besides diver safety, most of the concerns about the salvage project were its potential environmental hazards. The Italian Civil Protection Authority opted for the more expensive and lengthy process of refloating and towing the ship, and then cutting apart the ship off-site to recycle materials.
Another concern was the amount of food that had perished aboard the ship, which was enough for more than 4,000 people for seven days. Fuel tanks were trapped inside the wreck, and the ship itself had numerous parts that had to be removed in an environmentally friendly way.
Once the ship was stabilized, it was rotated – or parbuckled – using steel cables to carefully pull the ship to an upright position.
During the refloat phrase, several people from VideoRay went to work with Titan Salvage in Italy, including Bentley and Steve Van Meter, a certified VideoRay consultant and trainer, to see how the ROVs were being used.
The refloat phase was completed July 14 and the ship was towed to Genoa, Italy, where it arrived July 27. It has now entered the scrapping process, which includes disassembling and recycling the ship, a phase estimated to take two and a half years.
"It's been a phenomenal project," said Van Meter.
Besides the marine salvage project, VideoRay has supplied ROVs for numerous operations, including the South Korean ferry disaster in April. Bentley said VideoRay ROVs have the technology needed to explore and protect the oceans to get more information about what is in deep waters.
"I started this company largely so we could do [projects] like that," said Bentley.
Bentley first came in contact with the ROV technology after he served as the best man in his friend's wedding at a venue in the North Pole.
After the wedding, he visited the Shirshov Institute of Oceanology in 1999. The Moscow research center was working with a small ROV, which is where Bentley was introduced to the underwater systems. Soon after, Bentley had licensed technology from a Canadian-based company, Inuktun, which had a design for an eight-pound ROV.
The makeshift garage workshop became VideoRay and once it outgrew the shop, Bentley moved it to a warehouse at Bentley Systems, a software company he founded with his brothers in 1986.
VideoRay's worldwide headquarters relocated to High Street in Pottstown in 2012, and its development and repair center is in Phoenixville. They have shipped about 3,000 ROV systems worldwide.