By TRISHA THOMAS and NICOLE WINFIELD
GIGLIO, Italy (AP) — Italy on Thursday marked the 10th anniversary of the Costa Concordia cruise ship disaster with a daylong commemoration ending with a candlelight vigil marking the moment the ship slammed into a reef and then capsized off the Tuscan island of Giglio.
Church bells rang out as a commemorative Mass got underway in the Giglio church to honor the 32 people who died in the Jan. 13, 2012, shipwreck. It was the same church that opened its doors and took in hundreds of survivors on that freezing cold night, giving them shelter after they had arrived on shore in lifeboats, some of them having shimmied down the side of the liner.
“I invite you to have the courage to look forward,” Grosseto Bishop Giovanni Roncari told relatives of the dead, survivors and the Coast Guard officials who helped coordinate the rescue that night. “Hope doesn’t cancel the tragedy and pain, but it teaches us to look beyond the present moment without forgetting it.”
Under a brilliant sun and blue sky, survivors and relatives later planned to place a wreath in the water where the hulking liner finally came to rest on its side off Giglio’s coast. The Concordia’s captain, Francesco Schettino, is serving a 16-year prison sentence for having ordered the crew to take the ship off course to come closer to Giglio in a stunt. He then delayed an evacuation order and abandoned ship before all the passengers and crew were evacuated.
The 10th anniversary is also recalling how the residents of Giglio took in the 4,200 passengers and crew, giving them food, blankets and a place to rest, and then lived with the Concordia’s wrecked carcass for another two years until it was righted and hauled away for scrap.
Those residents gave a warm welcome to Kevin Rebello, whose brother Russel Rebello, a Concordia waiter, was the last person unaccounted-for until crews finally discovered his remains while dismantling the ship in 2014 in a Genoa shipyard.
Kevin Rebello had become close to many Giglio residents during the months that divers searched for his brother. And on Thursday, as he arrived at the church for the commemorative Mass, he was given an award from the Civil Protection Agency.
“This is for him,” Kevin Rebello told reporters as he clutched the plaque. “He would be proud of it.”
The anniversary comes as the cruise ship industry, shut down in much of the world for months because of the coronavirus pandemic, is once again in the spotlight because of COVID-19 outbreaks that threaten passenger safety. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control last month warned people across-the-board not to go on cruises, regardless of their vaccination status, because of the risks of infection.
For Concordia survivors, the COVID-19 infections on cruise ships are just the latest evidence that passenger safety still isn’t a top priority for the industry. Passengers aboard the Concordia were largely left on their own to find life jackets and a functioning lifeboat after the captain delayed an evacuation order until it was too late: many lifeboats were unable to lower to the water because the ship was listing too heavily.
Passenger Ester Percossi recalled being thrown to the ground in the dining room by the initial impact of the reef gashing into the hull, which she said felt “like an earthquake.” The lights went out, and bottles, glasses and plates flew off the tables and onto the floor.
“We got up and with great effort went out on the deck and there we got the life vests, those that we could find, because everyone was grabbing them from each other, to save themselves,” she recalled. “There was no law. Just survival and that is it.”
Costa didn’t respond to emails seeking comment on the anniversary.
Cruise Lines International Association, the world’s largest cruise industry trade association, stressed in a statement to The Associated Press that passenger and crew safety was the industry’s top priority, and that cruising remains one of the safest vacation experiences available.
“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 over the past 10 years with the International Maritime Organization and the maritime industry to “drive a safety culture that is based on continuous improvement.”
Winfield reported from Rome.