Italy on Friday is marking the 10th anniversary of the Costa Concordia cruise ship disaster with a daylong commemoration that will end with a candlelit vigil marking the moment the ship slammed into a reef and then capsized off the Tuscan island of Giglio.
A Mass in Giglio’s church is honouring the 32 people who died in the January 13, 2012, shipwreck, while survivors and relatives of the dead will place a wreath in the water where the hulking liner finally came to rest on its side off Giglio’s coast.
The anniversary is also recalling how the residents of Giglio gave shelter that night to the 4,200 passengers and crew, 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 on Thursday to Kevin Rebello, whose brother Russel Rebello, a Concordia waiter, remained unaccounted for until crews 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 his return to the island on the last ferry of the day on the eve of the anniversary turned into an emotional reunion.
“My brother did his duty. He lost his life protecting other people,” Kevin Rebello said as he arrived on Giglio. “I am proud of this. And I think he would be proud of what he did, helping so many people.”
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 US 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 steered the ship too close to shore in a stunt.
He then delayed an evacuation order until it was too late, with lifeboats 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."
Prosecutors blamed the delayed evacuation order and conflicting instructions given by crew for the chaos that ensued as passengers scrambled to get off the listing ship.
The captain, Francesco Schettino, is serving a 16-year prison sentence for manslaughter, causing a shipwreck and abandoning a ship before all the passengers and crew had evacuated.
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 Organisation and the maritime industry to “drive a safety culture that is based on continuous improvement.”