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Bells, sirens sound as shipwrecked Concordia liner leaves Italian isle, towed on final voyage

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GIGLIO ISLAND, Italy - The Costa Concordia cruise liner began its final voyage Wednesday, slowly being towed away from the tiny Italian island where it capsized more than two years ago, killing 32 people.

Boat sirens wailed and bells tolled on the island just before two tugboats pulled the Concordia away from Giglio's port, where the luxury liner ended up on its side in pristine Mediterranean waters, after being gashed by a reef it struck when its captain steered too close to the island.

The tugs are bringing the crippled ship on a four-day journey to the northwestern port of Genoa, which is home to the ship's owner, Costa Crociere Spa. The vessel will be scrapped there.

Accompanying the tugs and Concordia, moving at 2 knots (2.3 mph), are several boats to monitor any pollution in the waters, which are home to dolphins. Nets have been attached to sides of the liner in case any remnants of the Concordia's last passenger cruise — dishware, pots and pans, bed linen, chairs and other furnishings — tumble out of the ship during towing.

A daring engineering operation set the Concordia upright last September. Then, over the last few months, custom-built tanks, now filled with air to serve as kind of water wings to facilitate floating, were attached to the liner's flanks. The salvage master of the entire operation, Nick Sloane, said he felt a bit nervous before boarding a special command centre attached to the top of the Concordia to monitor the final voyage. An Italian naval admiral was also aboard.

Flying from the Concordia was the Italian flag, since regulations require the banner to be visible on the Italian-registered ship until scrapping.

On Friday, on the seabed where the Concordia had been marooned, a new search will begin for the one body that was never found. For weeks after the crash, divers had combed accessible areas in vain for the body of the Indian man who was a Concordia waiter.

Whether the Concordia itself might hold the body, "we will only know in the moment that the ship is dismantled in Genoa," Franco Gabrielli, the Italian government official monitoring the entire removal process, told reporters on the island.

The Concordia's Italian captain is on trial, accused of multiple manslaughter, causing the wreck on Jan. 13, 2012 and abandoning ship while hundreds of the 4,200 passengers and crew were still aboard the badly listing ship. The sole defendant in the trial in Tuscany, Francesco Schettino claimed the reef wasn't on the liner's nautical charts.

"It's a moment for sobriety and sorrowful respect for those who are no more," Gabrielli told Sky TG24 as he recalled those who perished.

France also sent a boat to monitor the voyage, since the Concordia's final route passes Corsica's east coast.

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