GIGLIO – Ten years have passed since the cruise ship Costa Concordia struck a reef off the Tuscan island of Giglio and capsized. But for the passengers on board and the local residents who welcomed them ashore, the memories of that harrowing, freezing night remain vividly etched in their minds.
The dinner plates flying off the tables when the stones first smashed the hull. The power outage after the ship’s engine room flooded and its generators failed. The last mad scramble to evacuate the headliner ship, and then the extraordinary generosity of the islanders of Giglio, who offered shoes, sweatshirts and shelter until the sun came up and the passengers were taken to the mainland.
Italy marks the 10th anniversary of the Concordia disaster on Thursday with a day-long commemoration, ending with a candlelit vigil just before the ship hit the reef: 9:45 p.m. on January 13, 2012. The events will be attended by the 32 people honor those who died that night, the 4,200 survivors, but also the residents of Giglio who took in passengers and crew and then lived off her coast for another two years with the wrecked carcass of the Concordia until it was righted and towed away for scrapping.
“When we islanders remember an event, we always refer to whether it was before or after the Concordia,” said Matteo Coppa, who was 23 and was fishing off the jetty as the dark Concordia headed for shore and then fell on its side in the water.
“I envision it as a nail on the wall marking this date as a before and after,” he said, recounting how he joined the rescue effort that night, helping to get the dazed, injured and freezing lifeboat passengers to pull ashore.
The sad anniversary comes as the cruise industry, which has been shut down for months in much of the world due to the coronavirus pandemic, is once again in the spotlight due to COVID-19 outbreaks threatening passenger safety. The US Centers for Disease Control last month warned people across the board against going on cruises, regardless of their vaccination status, because of the risk of infection.
For Concordia survivor Georgia Ananias, the COVID-19 infections are just the latest proof that passenger safety is still not a top priority for the cruise industry. Passengers aboard the Concordia were largely left to their own devices to find life jackets and a working lifeboat after the captain piloted the ship close to shore in a stunt. He then delayed an evacuation order until it was too late, as the lifeboats could not be lowered because the ship was hitting too hard.
“I’ve always said it won’t define me, but you don’t have a choice,” Ananias said in an interview from her home in Los Angeles, California. “We all suffer from PTSD. We had a lot of guilt that we survived and 32 other people died.”
Prosecutors blamed the late evacuation order and the crew’s conflicting instructions for the chaos that ensued as passengers attempted to disembark the ship. Captain Francesco Schettino is serving a 16-year sentence for manslaughter, causing a shipwreck and abandoning ship before all passengers and crew were evacuated.
Rejecting Costa’s original $14,500 in compensation offered to each passenger, Ananias and her family are suing Costa, a unit of US-based Carnival Corp., to try to recover the cost of her medical bills and therapy for to cover the suffered post-traumatic stress. But after eight years in the US and then the Italian court system, they lost their case.
“I think people need to be aware that on a cruise, if there’s a problem, you’re not going to have the justice that you’re used to in the country you live in,” said Ananias, who went on to become a top official of the International Cruise Victims Association, an advocacy group dedicated to improving shipboard safety and increasing transparency and accountability in the industry.
Costa didn’t respond to emails asking for comment about the anniversary.
Cruise Lines International Association, the world’s largest trade association for the cruise industry, said in a statement to The Associated Press that passenger and crew safety is the industry’s top priority and that cruising remains one of the safest vacation experiences.
“Our thoughts continue to be with the victims of the Concordia tragedy and their families on this sad anniversary,” CLIA said. It said it has worked with the International Maritime Organization and the maritime industry for the past 10 years to “promote a safety culture based on continuous improvement.”
For the Mayor of Giglio, Sergio Ortelli, the memories of that night are multifaceted: the horror of seeing the ship capsize, the effort to coordinate the rescue services on land, the recovery of the first bodies and then the pride that the islanders feel at this Opportunity brought to the survivors.
Ortelli was later on hand when, in September 2013, the 115,000-ton, 300-meter (1,000-foot) long cruise ship was righted vertically from its graveyard on the seabed in an extraordinary feat of engineering. But the night of the catastrophe, a Friday the 13th, has stayed with him deeply.
“It was a night that was not only a tragedy, but also had a beautiful side because people’s reaction was a spontaneous gesture that was appreciated around the world,” Ortelli said.
That seemed to be the norm at the time. “But then we realized that in just a few hours that night we had accomplished something incredible.”
Winfield reported from Rome.
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