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An elderly seaman spiced up the farewell of an Italian island to the Costa Concordia, as he sailed through the security perimeter around the stricken cruise liner, triggering a boat chase.

Minutes into operations to tow the Concordia on its final journey to the port of Genoa for scrapping, Argentino Pini, 72, set sail from the harbour of the island of Gilgio and headed towards the rusting hulk of the cruise ship.

Onlookers who had flocked the island's shores to say a last goodbye to the Concordia were bemused to see the tiny sailing boat breaking into the so-called 'red area' restricted to all vessels not involved in the salvage operation.

Sporting a banner that read: "Thank you all", Pini sailed past the Concordia - pursued by several coast guard vessels. He was eventually intercepted and escorted back to port.

"I didn't kill anyone," Pini told journalists waiting for him at the harbour. "I simply wanted to thank those who are carrying out this operation."

"I also wanted to pay a diverse tribute to the last missing victim [of the shipwreck]," Pini said. "Now that I know the Concordia is going away, I feel more relaxed."

Pini, a Giglio native, is a well-known sailor in the small Tuscan island and was among those who helped with rescue efforts in January 2012, when the Concordia hit a reef and capsised.

Thirty-two people were killed, including Russel Rebello, a 33-year-old cruise waiter from India, whose body was never found.

Two and a half years on, the Concordia has finally begun its final voyage. Boat sirens wailed and bells tolled on Giglio Island, as two tugboats moved to pull the luxury liner away from its crash site.

Moving at 2 knots (2.3 mph), the vessel is expected to arrive in the northwestern port of Genoa within a week.

The Concordia was hauled upright in September last year and re-floated earlier this month.

It is now is being kept afloat by giant buoyancy chambers. Nets have been attached to its sides in case any remnants or broken parts tumble out during towing.

The ship's owners, Costa Crociere, estimate the total cost of the salvage operation at €1.5bn (£1.2bn).