MIAMI (CBSMiami/AP) – A South Florida salvage company, along with its Italian counterpart, are slowly lifting the Costa Concordia ship into an upright position off the coast of Giglio.

Crews from Titan Salvage Company, based in Pompano Beach and Italy’s Micoperi, are using a complex system of pulleys and counterweights to lift the crippled ship out of the water in the biggest salvage operation in history.

The cruise liner has been stuck on its side for more than 20 months after it capsized in January of 2012, killing 32 people. Two bodies were never found.

Salvage experts had originally hoped to right the 115,000-ton vessel last spring, but heavy storms hampered work. Crews have raced to get the Concordia upright before another winter season batters the ship against its rocky perch — damage that would increase the chance that it couldn’t be towed away in one piece.

Salvage master Nick Sloane seemed optimistic in the final hours before the operation began, saying Sunday that testing of the machinery in recent days had actually lifted the 985-foot ship up about 2.5 inches. There have been concerns that the rocks of the reef on which the Concordia is resting were so embedded in the hull that the ship would resist being pulled off.

“We know that … she is lively enough to move,” Sloane told reporters.

The operation will slowly rotated the ship upright at a rate of about 3 meters per hour, using chains that have been looped around its hull. Tanks filled with water on the exposed side of the vessel will also help rotate it upward, using gravity to pull the exposed side down.

Once upright, those tanks — and an equal number that will be fixed on the opposite side — eventually will be filled with air, rather than water, to help float the ship up off the reef so it can be towed away.

An overnight storm delayed the start of the operation which is expected to finish later today. If the Costa Concordia is successfully brought to the surface, it will be towed away next year and broken up for scrap.

Costa Cruise Lines is a subsidiary of Miami-based Carnival Cruise Lines.

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