Italy's Costa Concordia will set sail on its final voyage, two and a half years after the luxury cruise ship crashed and sank in a nighttime disaster off the island of Giglio that left 32 people dead.

The rusting liner, which has been floated from its watery grave in the biggest salvage operation of a passenger ship performed so far, will be towed away on Wednesday to the port of Genoa in northwest Italy to be dismantled and scrapped.

Surviving passengers who have returned to Tuscany's Giglio island will gather with locals and holidaymakers to bid a final farewell to the once-magnificent cruise ship.

"We hope that many of our feelings (from the night of the disaster) will leave when the boat leaves. And that as it goes on its way, we can finally go on ours," said Anne Decre from the French Survivors' Collective, as she clutched the hand of friend Nicole Servel, whose husband died in the disaster.

The ship will be dragged up the Corsica channel by two tug boats at a speed of just two knots (3.7 m, 2.3 miles) per hour, and is expected to reach Genoa in four days, if the weather permits.

'Biggest challenge'

The length of three football fields, the crippled vessel will first be manoeuvred into position by British and Spanish tug boats in a complex operation beginning at 0630 GMT.

A Dutch tug boat and a Vanuatu-flagged one will then tow the 290-metre vessel away about 1000 GMT, while 12 other boats will sail in a convoy alongside, carrying divers, engineers, a medical team and environmental experts.

South African salvage master Nick Sloane - who has described removing the ship as the "biggest challenge" of a career that has taken him to six continents and two warzones - said he was ready to "wave goodbye to Giglio".

A 17-person team of salvage workers will be on the Concordia itself during the journey.

Precision sensors attached to the sides of the ship will monitor for possible cracks in the crippled hull, while underwater cameras will watch for debris washing out of the vessel amid fears toxic waste could spill into the sea.

Objects floating free such as suitcases, clothes and furniture will be caught in a huge net while infrared sensors will be used to detect possible oil leaks at night.

The doomed ship struck rocks just off the Mediterranean island on the night of January 13 with 4,229 people from 70 countries on board, just as many passengers were sitting down for supper on the first night of their cruise.

The crash tore a massive gash in its hull and the ship veered sharply as the water poured in, eventually keeling over on the rocks off Giglio.

Source: AFP