Concordia families gather for anniversary

2013-01-12 19:19

Giglio Island - Families of Italy's cruise shipwreck victims returned to the site of the disaster on Saturday as preparations got under way for a commemoration ceremony to mark the first anniversary of the fatal crash.

"It's not easy to return," said Kevin Rebello, whose brother was a waiter on the Costa Concordia and one of the 32 people who died.

"I was looking at the ship when I was coming in on the ferry," he added. His brother is one of two victims still missing.

"It brought back memories of those days when I used to travel up and down to Giglio island to know what's happening. I have still not found peace," he said.

Gazebos to host the hundreds of survivors expected to attend the ceremony have sprung up along the Tuscan island's port, just a few hundred yards from where the ship keeled over with 4 229 people from 70 countries on board.

Mayor Sergio Ortelli said the islanders were keen to welcome back those who lived through the traumatic night of 13 January. Many of them had sought shelter in local homes after being pulled shivering from the freezing sea.

"The idea is to exorcise a horrible episode, and to share the pain and drama of those who lost a loved one," Ortelli said.

Locals gathered on the port side to meet survivors arriving from Italy's mainland. Hundreds of French, German and American passengers were expected.

"Many survivors and relatives of victims have returned to thank us, and share their memories with us. Some, a year on, still send us e-mails," he said.

Find bodies

The commemorations on Sunday will include replacing where it once stood the rock that the ship crashed into and tore away. There will be a mass in the church that served as a temporary refuge for survivors in the hours after the crash.

Father Lorenzo Pasquotti said he would display objects that survivors left behind - life jackets, emergency blankets, even discarded rolls of bread - next to the altar, underneath a Madonna statue salvaged from the ship's chapel.

Flowers and candles line the aisles of the church, where extra pews have been squeezed in for survivors, salvage workers and government officials.

Later on Saturday, US salvage company Titan is expected to provide details on the mammoth operation of righting and re-floating the rusting 114 500-ton ship.

The project - the biggest of its kind ever attempted - has been held up by a series of technical difficulties, exacerbated by winter winds and rough seas.

An initial June date for towing away the giant hulk has been put back until September at the earliest. It is an excruciating delay for Rebello.

"I'm still waiting for his body, only then will everything come to an end. It's important for my family, who need to grieve," he said.

"I think they'll find it when they move the ship. I'm hoping that day arrives in the near future," he added.

Infamous captain

Rebello said he hoped the ceremony would not be overshadowed by talk about the Concordia's infamous captain Francesco Schettino.

Schettino, accused of causing the crash through reckless seamanship and then abandoning ship before all the passengers had been rescued, sparked controversy on Friday by saying that he was itching to captain a ship again.

Rebello said he had spoken to Schettino by phone several times, because the Italian captain knew his brother personally.

"They worked together on two different ships. So maybe, among the 32 people who lost their lives, he had the most contact with my brother.

"I'm not expecting answers from him. I've forgiven him. " he said.