SURVIVORS of the Costa Concordia shipwreck and relatives of the 32 people who died marked the first anniversary of the tragedy yesterday with the unveiling of memorials to the victims, a mass in their honour and a minute’s silence to mark the exact moment that the cruise ship hit a reef off Tuscany.
The first event of the day-long commemoration was the return to the sea of part of the massive rock that tore a 230ft gash into the hull of the ocean liner on 13 January, 2012. The boulder remained embedded in the mangled steel as the 112,000 tonne vessel capsized along with its 4,200 passengers and crew.
As fog horns wailed, a crane on a tug lowered the boulder onto the reef off Giglio, returning it to where it belongs and affixed with a memorial plaque. Relatives of the dead threw flowers into the sea and embraced as they watched the ceremony from a boat that bobbed in the waves under a slate gray sky.
A land-based memorial was being unveiled after a mass and ceremony honouring rescue crews. A minute of silence was scheduled for the moment the Concordia slammed into the reef after the captain took the ship off course in a stunt to bring it closer to Giglio.
The captain, Francesco Schettino, is accused of multiple manslaughter, causing a shipwreck and leaving the ship before all passengers were evacuated. He has not been charged but is living under court-ordered restrictions pending a decision on whether to indict him.
He maintains he saved lives by bringing the ship closer to shore rather than letting it sink in the open sea, and claims the reef he hit was not on his charts.
In an interview broadcast yesterday with RAI state television, Schettino again defended his actions and said he wanted to “share in the pain of all the victims and the families of the victims”.
Captain Gregorio De Falco of the Italian coastguard, who became a hero to survivors after his recorded conversations with Schettino during the evacuation were made public, also took part in the ceremony. In the conversations, he criticised Schettino for having abandoned the ship before all passengers were off and ordered him to return.
Capt De Falco said he wanted to go to Giglio to “embrace the victims, and the relatives of the victims”.
Also on hand was Kevin Rebello, brother of Costa waiter Russel Rebello, one of the two victims whose bodies were never recovered. Kevin Rebello spent weeks on Giglio in the aftermath of the disaster awaiting word of the fate of his brother and said he could not sleep ahead of yesterday’s anniversary.
“I have been constantly thinking it is going to be again the same agony, even tonight, because it is going to be the same exact moment when all this happened,” he said. “So my heart is beating a bit faster I guess.”
The Concordia remains on its side, grounded off Giglio’s port. Officials now say it will take until possibly September to prepare the ship to be rolled upright and towed from the rocks to a port to be dismantled.
While yesterday’s commemoration was focused on the relatives of those who died, Giglio’s residents were also being remembered for having opened their doors to the survivors who came ashore that night, cold, wet and traumatised.
“It was something that was too big for us,” said Giglio resident Silvana Anichini. “We are just not used to things like this.”
British singer remains traumatised by the disaster
A British singer spoke yesterday of her trauma one year on from the Costa Concordia cruise ship tragedy.
Amelia Leon, 23, from Brockley, south London, was a singer on another cruise ship and was visiting her crewman boyfriend when the Costa Concordia hit rocks off Italy.
Diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder, Ms Leon doubts whether she will ever be able to sing on a cruise ship again.
She said she thinks “every day” of the tragedy, in which 32 people lost their lives, as she recalled the “panic and confusion” as the ship turned on its side on 13 January 2012.
Ms Leon, who is now seeing a psychologist, said: “I still have flashbacks and get migraines and panic attacks. I think about what happened every day and I’ve found it difficult to move on.
“I don’t think I’ll ever be able to sing on a cruise ship again because I’m too scared to get on a boat – not because I think it will sink, because I know that is unlikely, but because I don’t want to be reminded of what happened. I just don’t want to feel trapped again.”
She went on: “I think it’s really important that cruise companies learn from this and make safety improvements so that others don’t have to suffer what we had to, I wouldn’t want anyone to go through our experience.
“Luckily, me and my ex-boyfriend escaped in a lifeboat but others weren’t so lucky. I remember seeing mothers throwing their babies on to lifeboats, and just complete panic and confusion. No one knew what was happening.”
A total of 37 British passengers and crew were aboard the vessel.
They included a troupe of eight dancers. All Britons survived.