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Costa Concordia survivors, families of victims still stunned by disaster

Relatives of the 32 victims of the Costa Concordia shipwreck aboard a ferry approach the Costa Concordia shipwreck off the Tuscan island of Isola del Giglio, Italy, Sunday, Jan. 13, 2013. Survivors of the shipwreck and relatives of the 32 people who died marked the first anniversary of the grounding Sunday. The first event of Sunday's daylong commemoration was the return to the sea of part of the massive rock that tore into the hull of the 112,000-ton ocean liner on Jan. 13, 2012 and remained embedded as the vessel capsized along with its 4,200 passengers and crew.

Gregorio Borgia/AP

The relatives of the 32 victims of the Costa Concordia shipwreck filed off a ferryboat into the tiny port of Giglio Sunday morning united in sadness. Many were clutching one another. Some were weeping.

One year to the day after cruise ship hit a reef next to the Italian island of Giglio, some were still in deep grief over the loss of their loved ones in an accident apparently borne of the incompetence of its captain, Francesco Schettino, who is yet to face justice.

The relatives of the victims, about 50 in all, started the memorial day on a ferry that took them out to the spot where the Costa Concordia struck the rock that tore 50-metre hole in the port side of the hull at 9:30 p.m. that night, capsizing the ship on a sloping granite ledge just beyond the port of Giglio.

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A 10-tonne piece of the rock, with a memorial plaque attached that read, in Latin, "To their everlasting memory," was lowered by work-boat crane into the sea. A horn sounded once for each victim while relatives scattered wreaths on the water.

Elio Vincenzi, 65, a Sicilian mathematics professor, got a call from his wife, Maria Grazia Tricarico, shortly after the 114,000-tonne, 290-metre-long vessel hit the reef.

Ms. Tricario was on the cruise with a friend, while her husband stayed home. In the phone call, she reassured her husband. "My wife told me that there was an accident, but said it was nothing serious," Prof. Vincenzi recalled, welling up in tears, after the victims' memorial mass late Sunday morning. "But she had a lot of fear of the ocean."

Prof. Vincenzi did not hear from his wife after most of the other 4,300 passengers and crew made it to shore in the chaotic, night-time rescue that saw sodden, traumatized passengers pile into the church, hotels and homes of the 800 people on the tiny island 16 kilometres off the Tuscan coast. Her body was found months later under the ship's hull. The friend who was with her also died in the wreck.

Costa Concordia passengers and relatives of the victims said they are still stunned by how close the monster ship came to the shore and the shoddy professionalism of many of the crew members, chief among them Capt. Schettino, who faces manslaughter charges. He abandoned the ship, claiming he accidentally tumbled into an open lifeboat, well before all the passengers were off.

A surviving French passenger, Morra Violette, 65, said that a crew member ordered her at first to descend – to the fourth deck from the fifth deck. "There was utter confusion, but almost no crew came to our help," she said. "I saw crew members putting on life jackets for themselves, but not for the passengers."

There were also acts of bravery that were honoured at the memorial. Giglio's deputy mayor, Mario Pellegrini, became a local hero after he boarded the capsized ship at night, opened a door and found about 10 passengers trapped behind it. With the help of another man, he pulled them out with a rope. "This was a tough job because some of the passengers were heavy," he said. "One of them was up to his neck in water."

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The ship now lies two-thirds submerged, at a 65-degree angle, while 430 salvage technician and divers work around the clock to prepare for its refloating, scheduled for June. The residents of tiny Giglio can't wait for it to be gone. The South African salvage boss, Nick Sloane, of Florida's Titan Salvage, gives the $400-million refloating effort only a 70 per cent chance of success.

Residents say their traditional off-season tranquillity is gone because the island is besieged by the salvage workers. While some bar and restaurant owners are reporting a brisk business, many hotel owners see no benefit from the salvage operations because most of the workers stay in floating barracks next to the wreck.Worse, day-tripper "disaster tourists" who spend little when they are on the island have replaced longer-staying Italian visitors.

"The Italians didn't come last year, and they may not come this year, because they don't want to see the ship," said Genna Solari, 51, co-owner of the Castello Montecristo hotel, which took in 100 stranded passengers, one of them a man wearing an elegant evening suit and a life jacket, on the night of the wreck. "We are famous around the world, but we are famous for a sad reason. I just want the ship to go away."

Some Giglio residents are terrified of the potential ecological disaster posed by the wreck, whose internal structures are getting weaker by the day, meaning there is some chance the ship could break apart when the it jacked into the vertical position and refloated. Equally, it could break apart if it is hit by a freak storm (high sea swells sank it by about a metre on Oct. 31). "I am worried about the environment and the pollution," said Cristina Gallo, 40, who is married to a Giglio fisherman. "The more time that passes, the more fragile the ship becomes."

The shipwreck anniversary wound down Sunday evening with a memorial concert and the lighting of 32 lanterns in memory of the victims, two of whose remains have yet to be recovered.

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About the Author
European Columnist

Eric Reguly is the European columnist for The Globe and Mail and is based in Rome. Since 2007, when he moved to Europe, he has primarily covered economic and financial stories, ranging from the euro zone crisis and the bank bailouts to the rise and fall of Russia's oligarchs and the merger of Fiat and Chrysler. More


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