How the Costa Concordia wreck changed an Italian island

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GIGLIO PORTO, Italy – The winding granite rocks of the Tuscan island of Giglio lay bare in the winter sun, no longer hidden by the sinister cruise liner that ran aground in the turquoise waters of this marine sanctuary ten years ago.

Few of the approximately 500 residents of the fishing village will ever forget the freezing night of January 13, 2012, when the Costa Concordia sank, killing 32 people and disrupting life on the island for years.

“Everyone of us here has a tragic memory of that time,” said Mario Pellegrini, 59, who was deputy mayor in 2012 and was the first civilian to board the cruiser after it hit the rocks near the lighthouses at the harbor entrance.

The hospitality of the tight-knit community of islanders came through, first to provide basic assistance to the 4,229 passengers and crew who had to be evacuated from a rocking ship as high as a skyscraper . In no time, the residents of Giglio welcomed thousands of journalists, law enforcement officers and rescue experts who descended on the port. In the coming months, salvage teams set up camp in the scenic harbor to work on the safe removal of the vessel, an operation that took more than two years.

The people of Giglio felt like family to those who spent long days in its port, waiting to hear from loved ones whose bodies remained trapped on the ship. Thursday, 10 years to the day after the tragedy, the families of the victims, some passengers and the Italian authorities attended a mass of remembrance and threw a wreath of flowers on the waters where the Costa Concordia had stopped. At 9:45 p.m., the time the ship ran aground, a candlelit procession lights up the harbor quay as church bells ring and ship sirens sound.

What stands out now for many is how the wreckage forever changed the lives of some of those whose paths crossed as a result. Friendships were made, business relationships were formed, and new families were even formed.

“It is as if, since that tragic night, the lives of everyone involved have been forever linked by an invisible thread,” said Luana Gervasi, the niece of one of the victims of the sinking, during the mass of Thursday, voice broken.

Francesco Dietrich, 48, from the eastern city of Ancona, arrived on the island in February 2013 to work with the wreck divers, “a dream job”, he said, adding: ” It was like offering someone who plays football for the parish team to join the Champions League with all the top teams in the business.

For his job, Mr. Dietrich had to buy a lot of boat repair supplies from the only hardware store in town. He was from a local family and Mr. Dietrich now has a 6-year-old son, Pietro, with the family’s daughter.

“It was such a shock for us,” said Bruna Danei, 42, who until 2018 worked as a secretary for the consortium that recovered the wreckage. “Working on the Costa Concordia was an experience that changed my life in many ways.”

A rendering of the Costa Concordia used by rescue teams to plan its recovery hung on the living room wall where his 22-month-old daughter, Arianna, played.

“She wouldn’t be here if Davide hadn’t come to work on the site,” Ms Danei said, referring to Davide Cedioli, 52, an experienced diver from Turin who came to the island in May 2012 to help. to straighten the Costa. Concordia — and who is also Arianna’s father.

From a barge, Mr Cedioli monitored the unprecedented rescue operation which, in less than a day, was able to turn the 951ft ship, partly crushed against the rocks, from the sea floor to a position vertically without further endangering the underwater ecosystem. which it damaged by running aground.

“We jumped for happiness when the parbuckling was finished,” recalls Mr. Cedioli. “We felt we were doing this story justice. And I loved this little community and living on the island.

The local council voted to make January 13 a day of remembrance on Giglio, but after this year it will stop public commemorations and ‘make it a more intimate time, without the media’, Mr Ortelli said at mass .

“Being here ten years later brings back a lot of emotions,” said Kevin Rebello, 47, whose older brother, Russell, was a waiter at the Costa Concordia.

Russell Rebello’s remains were finally recovered three years after the sinking, under the furniture of a cabin, after the ship was righted and dismantled in Genoa.

“First, I feel close to my brother here,” Kevin Rebello said. “But it’s also kind of a family reunion for me – I was looking forward to seeing the people from Giglio.”

Mr Rebello hugged and greeted locals on the streets of the port area, and recalled how people there had shown him affection at the time, buying him coffee and simply showing respect for his grief .

“Other families of victims have different feelings, but I’m Catholic and I’ve forgiven,” Rebello said.

The Costa Concordia crash caused national shame when it became clear that the liner’s captain, Francesco Schettino, had not immediately sounded the general alarm and coordinated the evacuation, and had instead abandoned the ship in the process of result.

“Get back on board! a Coast Guard officer yelled at Mr Schettino when he realized the captain was in a lifeboat watching people rush to escape, audio recordings of their exchange later revealed . “Come up to the bow of the ship on a rope ladder and tell me what you can do, how many people are there and what they need. Now!”

The officer has since pursued a distinguished political career, while Mr Schettino is serving a 16-year sentence in a Roman prison for homicide and for abandoning ship before the evacuation was complete. Other officials and crew members negotiated less severe sentences.

During the trial, Mr Schettino admitted he had been “reckless” in deciding to sail at high speed near the island of Giglio to greet the family of the ship’s butler. The impact with the half-submerged rock near the island produced a gash in the hull over 70 meters long, or about 76 meters, resulting in power outages on board and water spilling into the lower decks.

Mr Schettino attempted to steer the cruiser into port to aid evacuation, but the ship was out of control and began to rock as it approached port, rendering many lifeboats useless.

“I can’t forget the eyes of the frightened children and their parents,” said Mr Pellegrini, who had boarded the ship to speak with authorities and organize the evacuation. “The metallic sound of the enormous rocking ship and the gurgling of the sea in the endless corridors of the cruiser.”

Sergio Ortelli, who is still mayor of Giglio ten years later, was similarly moved. “No one can go back and undo these senseless deaths of innocent people or the grief of their families,” he said. “The tragedy will always stay with us as a community. It was an apocalypse for us. »

Yet Mr Ortelli said the accident also told another story, that of the skilled rescuers who managed to save thousands of lives, and the engineers who righted the liner, refloated it and took it to breakage.

As global attention shifted away from Giglio, residents stayed in touch with the outside world through the people who temporarily lived there.

For months Reverend Lorenzo Pasquotti, then a pastor in Giglio, continued to receive packages: dry-cleaned slippers, sweaters and tablecloths that were given to cold passengers stranded in his church that night, returned by mail.

One summer Father Pasquotti ate German biscuits with a couple of German passengers on the boat. They still remembered the hot tea and leftover Christmas treats they had been given that night.

“So many nationalities – the world was on our doorstep all of a sudden,” he said, remembering that night. “And we naturally opened it.”

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