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Tearful survivors mark Costa Concordia anniversary on Giglio

More than 100 survivors and relatives of the 32 people who died in the shipwreck converged on the tiny Italian island into which the luxury cruise liner crashed last year.

Tearful survivors of the Costa Concordia shipwreck commemorated the first anniversary of the disaster on Sunday with a Mass, a concert, and the unveiling of memorials.

More than 100 survivors and relatives of the 32 people who died in the accident converged on Giglio, the tiny Italian island into which the luxury cruise liner crashed on the night of Jan. 13 last year.

The survivors were among the 4,200 passengers and crew who had to scramble ashore in darkness after its captain, Francesco Schettino, allegedly misjudged a sail-past of the island, slamming the 950 foot-long vessel into a reef off the island’s rocky shore.

Rock returned to sea bed

The memorial events started when a chunk of granite that was left embedded in the hull of the Concordia during the collision was returned to the sea bed by a tug boat, in a ceremony watched by weeping relatives and survivors.

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The 10-ton rock, a fragment of a much larger piece of granite that ripped open the side of the ship and allowed sea water to pour into its engine rooms, was returned to its original location as a permanent memorial to the tragedy.

It was lowered into the sea by a powerful crane on board the Voe Earl, a British support vessel which is one of 20 vessels involved in the multinational effort to raise the Concordia.

The six-foot-high rock, which tore a 230 foot-long gash in the ship’s hull, bore a plaque with an inscription in Latin dedicated to the “everlasting memory” of the 32 dead.

Relatives mourn

Under a brooding winter sky, surrounding boats sounded their fog horns in a mournful remembrance of those who died, and relatives tossed bouquets of flowers into the sea.

“There is still a great deal of pain,” says Kevin Rebello, an Indian citizen living in Italy whose brother Russel, a waiter on board the Concordia, is one of two victims of the disaster whose bodies are believed to be trapped in the wreck.  

“I know my brother is down there but you feel helpless — you just can’t do anything,” he told the Monitor.

Trial yet to start

Passengers, who were at the start of a week-long cruise of the Mediterranean when disaster struck, expressed anger towards Captain Schettino, who is accused of sailing far too close to the island in order to perform a “salute” to impress colleagues.

He has yet to be sent to trial on charges of manslaughter and abandoning ship, although an indictment is expected in the next few weeks.

A court has confined him to his home town of Meta di Sorrento, south of Naples, while he waits to go on trial.

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“I’m angry, very angry,” says Ester Percorsi, an Italian passenger. “Nobody has paid for this yet. It is terrible to see the ship again. A year ago we were freezing cold, confused, terrified. But now we are lucid and we understand exactly what happened.”

The youngest victim of the disaster was Dayana Arlotti, who was just five years old.

Her mother, Susy Albertini, said returning to Giglio was “like reliving a nightmare” but hoped that the memorial events would “make me feel closer to Dayana.”

Giglio’s ‘way of life’ altered

A two-and-a-half hour Mass was held in a church in Giglio Porto, the island’s main port, a short distance from the picturesque bay where the Concordia lies rusting, surrounded by salvage vessels and three enormous offshore platforms stacked with salvage equipment and divers’ accommodations.

Sergio Ortelli, the mayor of Giglio, said the capsizing of the Concordia was “a terrible tragedy that has profoundly changed our way of life.”

It had shattered the tranquility of the Tuscan island, he told the church.

“Who can forget the children who were wet-through, their eyes wide with fear, or the elderly couples who clutched each other for comfort?” he said in an emotional address.

“It was a very moving ceremony. We’re very glad we came,” says John Heil, the son of retirees Gerald and Barbara Heil of Minnesota, the two Americans who died in the disaster.

A remembrance concert was held in Giglio Castello, a village perched at the very top of the rugged island, memorials were unveiled in the port and illuminated lanterns were released into the sky at 9:45 pm local time, the exact moment that the Concordia crashed into the rocks.

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Rolling and removing the ship

It had originally been hoped that the 950 foot-long ship could be rolled upright and floated away this spring.

But rough winter weather and technical challenges have caused significant delays, meaning that the vessel will probably not be towed away until September.

It will be taken to an Italian port where it will be dismantled for scrap.

The cost of the operation has ballooned from an initial estimate of $300 million to $400 million.

The refloating of the ship is the biggest operation of its kind ever attempted.

Shipyards around Italy are constructing steel platforms and other equipment which together weigh nearly four times as much as the Eiffel Tower.

More than 400 divers, engineers, welders, and other experts from 19 countries are working round-the-clock, seven days a week, to prepare the ship to be rolled upright onto an “artificial seabed” consisting of steel platforms and sacks containing 20,000 tonnes of cement.

The ship will be righted with the help of hydraulic jacks, massive cables, and 30 giant boxes which will be welded onto its port and starboard sides in order to provide buoyancy.  

Each is the height of a seven- to 10- story building but they must be welded into place so precisely that there is a margin of error of just 1 percent in their positioning.

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The huge boxes will act like arm bands, raising the ship in the water once it is upright.

“The concept of rolling a ship like this is not unusual but given that it is three football pitches in length, the scale is something that has never been attempted before. Once we start rolling the ship upright, there’s no going back — gravity takes over,” says Nick Sloane, a South African who is in charge of the salvage.

The inhabitants of Giglio, who make their living from tourism, are concerned that the lingering presence of the wreck will ruin another summer holiday season — business last year was down between 20 and 30 percent.

Even when the ship is floated away, the multinational salvage team will stay for at least another three months, cleaning up debris and removing the steel platforms and sacks of cement from the seabed.