ROME - Turkey may clinch a bid to dismantle the wrecked Costa Concordia cruise liner, Italy's civil protection agency said Thursday, with a decision to be taken in May.
Italian ports are fighting off competition from ports in Britain, France, Norway and Turkey for the contract to scrap the carcass of the vast Concordia, which sank off Italy in 2012, leaving 32 people dead.
While Norway would be the cheapest option, Italy has ruled it out because of the distance the crippled ship would have to travel amid fears of possible environmental damage en route.
"The Turkish solution would cost $40 million (29 million euros)," civil protection agency chief Franco Gabrielli told parliament, while the Italian bids - from the Civitavecchia port near Rome, Piombino in Tuscany and Genoa in the north - are much more costly.
Civitavecchia, the closest port to the island of Giglio where the ship lies, has asked for 200 million euros to do the job, he said.
Piombino is not ready to take in the 290-metre (951-foot) long, 114,500-tonne vessel, but it would only take a day to drag it there if it could be prepared in time - while Genoa is ready but is five days away, he added.
The ship was hoisted upright from its watery grave in September in the biggest-ever salvage operation of its kind, after which the remains of one of two missing victims were discovered.
"We hope an Italian port will win," Gabrielli told a parliamentary environmental commission, "not least because we still have one body to find." However, he said Turkey may be the best option for an operation which will be paid for by the ship's owner Costa, Europe's biggest cruise operator, which he said has already spent 1.1 billion euros on the salvage.
"We have not dismantled ships in Italy for the past 25 years. We take our military ships to Turkey" to be scrapped, he said.
A final decision on the port will be taken at the beginning of May, he said.
Costa meanwhile has said the timetable for re-floating and towing away the ship may slip back from June to later in the summer.
"The timing is very difficult. We will do our utmost but it would be rash to say it will be removed by June," project manager Franco Porcellacchia was quoted as saying by Italian media.
He said the delicate operation to raise the cruiser from the seabed was expected to take a week.
The last two tanks to be attached to the ship to enable it to float left the port of Livorno for Giglio island Thursday.
The tanks, which will be emptied of water to raise the wreck, have increased the width of the vessel to 60 metres (almost 200 feet).
Whichever port takes the liner in for dismantling will also have to be deep enough: even once the tanks have been emptied, the bulk of the Concordia will sit some 18.5 metres under the waterline, compared to its original depth of eight metres.