Survivors mark 2nd anniversary of Concordia wreck

AP News
Posted: Jan 13, 2014 4:48 PM

GIGLIO ISLAND, Italy (AP) — Survivors of the Costa Concordia's deadly collision and capsizing marked the second anniversary of the shipwreck with a candlelight march and the wail of sirens Monday on the tiny Tuscan island where they came to safety.

The survivors also honored the 32 people who died in the tragedy with a moment of silence in the courtroom where the luxury liner's captain is on trial for manslaughter.

Relatives of the dead threw a wreath into the sea and attended a Mass in the island's church, which had welcomed hundreds of passengers on the cold night of Jan. 13, 2012, when Concordia hit a reef near the coastline, took on water and capsized.

"I am here for my sister," said Madeleine Soria Molina of Peru, whose sister Erika Fani Soria Molina was among the crew members killed. "It is a way to be with her again because the death of a member of your family — of a brother or sister — it is hard to get over it."

On the mainland, members of the court and survivors alike stood in silence inside the theater-turned-courtroom in Grosseto, where Capt. Francesco Schettino stands accused of manslaughter, causing a shipwreck and abandoning the Concordia before all passengers had been evacuated.

Passengers came from as far away as Russia and Britain to attend the hearing, but it was adjourned almost immediately after the commemoration because of a lawyers' strike. Schettino, who didn't attend the session, has said he is innocent and saved lives.

Survivor Peter Honuehlmann from Essen, Germany, said he hopes somehow that his return to Giglio island will be helpful for his wife, Tieksma Miehling. Ever since their harrowing escape from the listing Concordia she has been afraid of crowds, he said.

When she arrived on Monday for the ceremonies and saw the wreck, now upright and outside the harbor, tears streamed down her face and her hands shook, he said.

"I want my wife back" as she was before the shipwreck, Honuehlmann said, as residents and survivors, holding candles, gathered for the evening march near the port.

Sirens sounded a mournful note at the exact hour of the collision, 9:45 p.m.

Residents of Giglio, meanwhile, are finally seeing the end of their ordeal, with June set as the date to remove the hobbled wreck from the island's port. They received a boost in spirits in September when salvage crews pulled off an unprecedented engineering feat to right the 115,000-ton, 300-meter (1,000-foot) -long liner in preparation for it to be towed away.

"Definitely (this anniversary) is something that takes us back to that terrible night, even if today we are looking at this anniversary ... with a light that is a little bit different," Giglio Mayor Sergio Ortelli told The Associated Press. "Today we are looking forward optimistically to what will be the final operation."

The Concordia ran into the reef off Giglio and pierced a 70-meter (230-foot) gash in its hull.

Schettino is accused of having taken the ship off course in a stunt to bring it closer to Giglio, then delaying the evacuation order until it was too late to lower many of the lifeboats from the listing liner. His lawyers have blamed other crew members for not following orders and said the ship itself malfunctioned.

In a statement Monday to the ANSA news agency, Schettino expressed his "profound condolences" to the relatives of the victims and said he would have liked to attend the Grosseto moment of silence but couldn't because of the strike. He said the anniversary "renews an indelible wound for all of us."

In the coming months, a total of 30 giant tanks will be affixed to both sides of the Concordia to float it off the false seabed where it is resting, so it can be towed to a port to be dismantled for scrap. Five Italian ports are vying for the contract, but ports in Turkey, France and even China have also submitted bids.

"Two years means that, let's not say we've gotten used to it, but almost," said Giglio resident Giuseppe Modeste. "But eventually this wreck will be taken away."

The ship owner, Costa Crociere SpA, is a unit of Miami-based Carnival Corp., the world's largest cruise line operator.


Winfield reported from Rome.