January 14, 2013 – The Costa Concordia Cruise Ship Disaster One Year Later: A photographer takes pictures of the Costa Concordia cruise ship on the Italian island of Giglio, a year after the disaster.
Before the altar of Santi Lorenzo e Mamiliano lay the detritus of emergency: a lifejacket, some bread rolls, a torch, a rope and a large orange plastic bag. On the night of 13 January 2012, as the Costa Concordia lay torn open and grounded just 300 meters from the shore, the church served as a shelter for those in need.
On Sunday, a year on from the disaster, which claimed 32 lives, the survivors returned to pay tribute to those who had not been so lucky. The items they had left behind had been kept by people in the local community as a reminder – not only of that night but of the year of heartache and solidarity that followed. “We have become one big family,” said the priest, Lorenzo Pasquotti, after a commemorative mass.
At the beginning of a day-long series of commemoration services, relatives of the victims threw bouquets of flowers into the sea and watched, beneath a slate grey sky and near the rusting hulk of the once-great ship, as part of the rock that ripped a 50-meter gash in the liner’s side was returned to the reef. On it was a memorial plaque and, as the foghorns blared, the families looked on.
Among them was Susy Albertini, the mother of the youngest victim, five-year-old Dayana Arlotti, who died along with her father.
The day ended with a minute’s silence at 9:45PM to mark the exact time of the crash. Ships in Giglio harbor sounded their horns and lanterns representing the victims were lit and sent soaring into the night sky above the wreck.
“We wanted to be here one year on, to come back to the island, to see again the people who took us in that night,” said survivor Martine Maurice, from the north-western French town of Saint-Nazaire. “I saw the man and woman who opened their hotel for me and was able to thank them. I didn’t know their names but I recognized their faces.
“I saw the shop which gave us things to put on our feet because of course we had bare feet,” she added. “One year on, it’s good to come together.”
And yet, despite the overwhelming desire of all in Giglio to avoid recriminations, one man managed to set teeth on edge once again. Interviewed on Italian television, the Costa Concordia’s captain, Francesco Schettino, made his presence felt with an impassioned defense of his actions on board, which he claims saved lives.
Schettino has not yet been charged but is accused of multiple manslaughter, causing a shipwreck and abandoning ship before the evacuation of all passengers. Prosecutors have accused him of manoeuvring the 114,000-tonne cruise liner “like a canoe”.
“I believe that pain should not be flaunted; it’s something we carry within ourselves,” Schettino said. “What I can say is that I want to sincerely share in the pain of all the victims and the families of the victims.”
In stark contrast to the irritation caused by Schettino, another key figure in the disaster was greeted with quasi-adulation. Captain Gregorio De Falco, the coastguard who urged Schettino to “get on board” on the night of the disaster and whose decisiveness in the crisis made him a national hero, took part in the memorial services with his usual reserve.
He told the throngs of journalists surrounding him that he had spent the past year trying to hide from the limelight. “I’m not a hero,” he said. “I just did my job.”
De Falco was greeted with emotion by Elio Vincenzi, whose Sicilian wife, Maria Grazia Trecarichi, is one of the two Concordia passengers who remain, despite all efforts to find them, missing, presumed dead. The other is Russel Rebello, a waiter on the ship.
During a service in Santi Lorenzo e Mamiliano to honor those who had helped in the rescue and recovery operation, Vincenzi broke down in tears as he presented the island of Giglio with a figurine of the Virgin Mary.
Kevin Rebello, Russel’s brother, said: “For me coming back to this island is like being near my brother because I know he’s still down there beneath me.”
Speaking in the church, Sergio Ortelli, the mayor of Giglio, said it would be “impossible” for the island to forget the Costa Concordia, which, he said, had “profoundly changed our way of life”.
After the service, Pasquotti agreed. The survivors had kept in touch and become friends, the priest said; those who spent time there looking for their loved ones had become part of the community.
“And then of course the ship is still here,” he said, gesturing to the huge white hulk that continues to dominate Giglio’s horizon and is likely to be there until September.
“The people of Giglio cannot forget,” Pasquotti said. “There is no need for it to be 13 January 2013 for us to remember because it is a constant reminder.” (Credits – Lizzy Davies for The Guardian World News).
The Master of Disaster