Sunday, March 9, 2014
By Frances D'Emilio and Paolo Santalucia / The Associated Press
(Continued from page 1)
The Costa Concordia cruise ship lies on its side in the waters of the Tuscan island of Giglio, Italy, on Monday. The luxury cruise ship ran aground off the coast of Tuscany on Jan 13, 2012, sending water pouring in through a 160-foot gash in the hull and forcing the evacuation of some 4,200 people from the listing vessel.
For weeks, divers dodged floating mattresses, tableware, chairs and other furnishings of the Concordia in their search of the interior as well as the exposed side of the boat. They plumbed the nearby chilly waters in vain search for the bodies of a middle-aged Italian woman, whose family said she was an excellent swimmer, and of an Indian man who worked as a waiter aboard.
Schettino, wearing sunglasses and slipping on a blue jacket over his white shirt, made no comments as he hurried into a back entrance of the theater. On his way out, before darting into a car, he told reporters: "We'll see you on the 17th," when trial is set to resume.
Schettino has depicted himself as a scapegoat. Far from being a coward, he insists, he was a hero for steering the ship closer to Giglio's port after the collision — a maneuver he claimed helped save countless lives by making rescue easier.
The public's idea of him contrasts sharply. It is largely shaped by an oft-broadcast recording of a phone conversation between Schettino and an exasperated Italian coast guard official who repeatedly ordered the captain to scramble back aboard the ship to direct the evacuation.
Schettino has claimed he had to abandon the capsizing boat while people were still aboard before it became impossible to launch any more lifeboats and he planned to direct the rest of the evacuation from shore. He also has claimed that in the darkness he didn't see a ladder he could have used to climb back aboard.
The Concordia's wreck blights the seascape for yet another summer in an otherwise pristine part of the Tuscan archipelago, confounding experts' initial predictions that the ship would have been removed by spring 2013.
On Giglio, about 50 kilometers (30 miles) southwest of Grosseto, residents depend on tourism and fishing for their livelihoods. The wreckage mars the panorama from the island's harbor, where locals and tourists sip drinks and mingle in the evening.
Salvage experts had originally predicted the ship could be tipped upright in an ambitious operation so towing could begin in spring of this year. But that timetable has slipped away.
The removal project involves some 400 workers representing 18 nationalities, including engineers and divers. This week, crews were busy securing some of the caissons being attached to one side of the crippled ship, which, the planners hope, will help the wreckage stay afloat when eventually righted so it can be towed to the mainland.
Islanders are impatient for the removal of the eyesore.
"We want our island back as it was," Giglio's mayor, Sergio Ortelli, told The Associated Press on Monday as he looked at the blue cove where he used to swim. Now, towering cranes and platforms of the removal team loom over the shipwreck.
Ortelli said authorities told the islanders the operation will begin in September to bring the wrecked ship upright again.
The island is still awaiting compensation for damages caused by the shipwreck, he said. "Our image was internationally damaged, and tourism figures have dropped off noticeably," the mayor said.
Most haunting is the human cost of the Concordia's fateful collision.
"The saddest thing is to pass by on the ferry and think that two bodies are still there, or will never be found," said tourist Patrizia Giovanelli.