MASSIVE OPERATION: The salvage operation on the sunken cruise ship Costa Concordia is the largest ever of its kind. Joshua Thomas (inset) is the only Australian diver on the project.
MASSIVE OPERATION: The salvage operation on the sunken cruise ship Costa Concordia is the largest ever of its kind. Joshua Thomas (inset) is the only Australian diver on the project. And Cover Photo Gregorio Borgia

Costa Concordia shipwreck will refloat

YOU could say he's a tradie in a scuba suit.

Joshua Thomas from Ballina is the only Australian diver working as part of the international team of professional divers attempting to salvage the Costa Concordia cruise ship off the coast of Italy.

The now infamous ship struck a rock in the Tyrrhenian Sea just off the eastern shore of Isola del Giglio, west of Italy.

It grounded just north of the village of Giglio Porto, in shallow water with most of its starboard (right) side under water.

As a commercial diver, Mr Thomas, who moved with his family to Ballina from the Solomon Islands in 2008, regularly travels across the word for work, but acknowledges that this is the biggest job he has ever encountered.

"This is the biggest salvage refloat in history and coming from a salvage family - with my father being a salvage master for 40 years in the Solomon Islands - this has been a great personal achievement to show my father his efforts teaching me everything I know wasn't in vain," Joshua says.

With four decades of salvaging under his dive belt, Joshua's father Reginald Thomas, who lives in Ballina with Joshua's mother Helen, understands the magnitude, difficulty and complexity of the job that Joshua is completing in Italy.

"That job will give Josh a lot of professional prestige, we are very proud of him," says Reginald.

"It is the biggest salvage project ever attempted, the cruise liner is over 100,000 tonnes and if the ship slides it could be an environmental catastrophe," he explained.

Originally from Sydney, Reginald and Helen lived in Wooli, near Grafton in the late 1960s and then moved to The Solomon Islands in 1971.

"The kids, Josh and his sister Natasha, grew up in The Solomons. It was fabulous there back then. No TV or radio, a phone call to Australia had to be booked in advance, but the life was all outdoors and there was a real sense of community," explained Helen.

It was in The Solomons that Joshua aged eight started diving with his father.

They then worked together over the decades in a series of diving jobs in the Pacific until 2007 when the family moved back to Australia.

"We had been to Ballina before and we liked that it was a small town with a connection to the marine life, but when we came back, Ballina was no little town any more!" said Helen.

Reginald says there is a chance that the details of the family's many adventures around the Pacific could be put together for a book of memoirs that he is planning to write; stories of salvaging Japanese destroyers sunk during the Second World War or repairing underwater pipelines, as well as the family's extensive collection of photographs.


"I have had so many adventures. I have stories for a number of lifetimes, and now Josh has added one more to the family's book," Reginald says.


The Thomases hope to see their son back in Australia soon, "but the most important thing is that he sees the job completed, as he wants to," Helen says.

Although Joshua would love to be home with his parents and girlfriend Lorraine, for now he is enjoying the challenging and prestigious role that carries on his family's unusual tradition.

"Professionally, it's a great opportunity to be part of such a historic salvage working with highly experienced salvage personnel and salvage companies such as Titan," Joshua says.

"It has to be a complete refloat. Having (the ship) cut up and removed in pieces is not an option seeing that Giglio is a protected marine park."

More than 350 people are attempting to salvage the Costa Concordia, 80 of them divers.

"We have divers from England, Spain, Italy, Canada and the rest of the world. At the moment I am the only Australian on the job."

Eight dive teams per shift have been working around the clock for months to get the gigantic task completed.

"I work seven days on 12-hour shifts, starting midnight to midday, with diving every day. Any time I am not in the water is spent preparing equipment for the next divers," he explains.

The divers live and work from an accommodation and work barge alongside the Costa Concordia.

While you are reading this, Joshua will probably be underwater, on one of his diving shifts.

He was unable to provide details of the operation or how long it will take for the cruise liner to be salvaged, but he confirmed "the job is proceeding as per company schedule."

And while he is travelling the world, doing what he loves, he says he is also looking forward to being back on the North Coast.

"The Northern Rivers is now my home and I will always return there, I find I can have a similar sort of lifestyle to the Solomon Islands where I grew up.

"As for when I can get home, it will depend on the job's completion," he said.