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Ten years on, survivors recount haunting memories of Italy cruise ship disaster

A memorial service was held on Giglio today to mark 10 years since the disaster.

The Costa Concordia as it lies on its side next to Giglio Island in Italy. August 2013.
The Costa Concordia as it lies on its side next to Giglio Island in Italy. August 2013.
Image: Alamy Stock Photo

ON THE EVENING of 13 January 2012, Umberto Trotti heard the terrified cries of his wife and baby in the lifeboat below, and threw himself off the capsizing Italian cruise ship.

The Costa Concordia, a vast, luxury liner, had run aground off Italy’s Giglio island and was toppling over into freezing waters, in a disaster that would leave 32 people dead.

There had been no room for Trotti in the lifeboat that took his wife Fjorda and two young children, but on hearing their panic as the vessel was lowered into the water, he leaped to join them.

“It was instinct, my family needed me. I jumped, three or four metres (10 or 13 feet). I landed on a big German, poor man,” Trotti told AFP.

A memorial service was held on Giglio today to mark 10 years since the disaster, a wreath was thrown into the water in memory of the victims and a candle-lit procession planned.

Ship horns will sound and church bells ring at 9.45pm (8.45 Irish time) to mark the moment the liner, owned by Costa Crociere, subsidiary of US based giant Carnival, struck an outcrop, after captain Francesco Schettino ordered a sail-by “salute” to the Tuscan island.

the-cruise-liner-costa-concordia-is-seen-after-the-luxury-cruise-liner-capsized-off-the-island-giglio-at-the-tuskan-coast-italy-16-january-2012-the-cruise-ship-costa-concordia-carrying-more-tha The cruise liner 'Costa Concordia' off the island Giglio at the Tuskan coast. Source: Alamy Stock Photo

Trotti, 44, and Fjorda, 33, had been on their honeymoon.

“It was supposed to be the best experience of our lives,” he said.

“Those not onboard will never understand. I was so in shock, I was walking like a zombie.”

‘Hellish’

The liner, carrying 4,229 people from 70 countries, ran aground while many passengers were at dinner.

Schettino, later sentenced to 16 years for the shipwreck, delayed sounding the alarm.

Evacuation began over an hour after the collision, by which point the lifeboats on one side were unusable.

“We were saved by a chef,” Trotti says. They had been in the blue and gold Ristorante Milano when the ship hit land.

Paolo Maspero, still in his chef’s hat, “took my six-month old son in his arms. The water was coming in”.

“If he hadn’t come to get us we would have died,” said Trotti, who could not swim.

the-capsized-costa-concordia-cruise-ship-lies-off-the-port-of-giglio-island-isola-del-giglio-italy-17-may-2012-the-cruise-liner-rests-half-sunken-in-front-of-the-giglio-island-after-it-hit-under The capsized Costa Concordia cruise ship lies off the port of Giglio Island. Source: Alamy Stock Photo

Images shot later by the coastguard would show divers in the sunken restaurant, battling through flotsam, searching for victims.

People in the Vienna Bar were listening to pianist Antimo Magnotta, who fell off his stool as the ship lurched.

He found himself surrounded by terrified passengers demanding answers.

“A woman came up to me carrying two very small children. She was like a tiger, a lion, she almost attacked me. She said ‘you have to tell me what to do to save my children’,” he told AFP.

Magnotta, who has written a book called ‘The Pianist of Costa Concordia’, said he did as he was trained to do, and reassured passengers the captain would make an announcement.

“I promised them. But Schettino never spoke. It was a huge betrayal,” he said.

The electricity failed and as it became increasingly difficult to walk on the rolling ship, a series of “hellish” blackouts began.

‘Unforgivable’

“People disappeared in the dark, then reappeared again. They cried out ‘mum where are you?’. I remember to this day the names people shouted out, looking for each other,” said Magnotta, 51.

He eventually managed to climb down the side of the ship. Two of his friends died that night.

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Suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder, the musician moved to London and found work as a waiter at the Victoria and Albert Museum café, which by luck had a piano in it.

Months later he persuaded his manager to let him play it, and was given a permanent gig.

Ten years on, he wants to return to Giglio to play for the locals. But he is unable to forgive Schettino “for never having said sorry”.

The former captain was convicted in 2015 of multiple counts of manslaughter, causing a maritime accident and abandoning ship before all passengers and crew had been evacuated.

Schettino has appealed to the European Court of Human Rights. His lawyers are expected to request this year that he serve the rest of his sentence at home for good behaviour.

Missing brother

Kevin Rebello, 47, has refused to judge Schettino, despite the death of his younger brother on board.

The body of Russel, a 32-year-old waiter, was recovered three years after the disaster, when the rusting wreck was dismantled.

He had been ill that night. “He was in his cabin when it flooded with water,” Rebello told AFP.

“He rushed out barefoot in shorts and met a friend who lent him clothes… He helped people into lifeboats.

“He was still helping them when the ship tilted over sharply, and people fell into the water. No-one saw him after that.”

Reliving the disaster is “incredibly difficult”, but Rebello is returning to Giglio for the anniversary.

“It is like a second home for me. I feel close to my brother when I’m there,” he said.

© AFP 2022

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