Costa Concordia: Survivors mark 10 years since Italian cruise ship disaster

Passengers and crew will return to the Italian island of Giglio on Thursday night to mark the moment the cruise liner sank off the coast a decade ago, leaving 32 people dead.

The Costa Concordia ran aground near the Isola del Giglio (Giglio island).
The Costa Concordia ran aground near the Isola del Giglio (Giglio island) on January 13th, 2012 after hitting underwater rocks. File photo: FILIPPO MONTEFORTE / AFP

On the evening of January 13th, 2012, Umberto Trotti threw himself off the side of the capsizing Costa Concordia cruise ship after hearing the terrified cries of his wife and baby in a lifeboat below.

The vast, luxury liner had run aground off Italy’s Giglio island and was toppling over into freezing waters.

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.

The family were unsure whether to go back to Giglio for a ceremony Thursday and a candle-lit procession marking 10 years since the disaster.

Ship horns will sound and church bells ring out at 9:45pm local time to mark the moment the liner, owned by Costa Crociere, a subsidiary of US-based giant Carnival, struck an outcrop, after captain Francesco Schettino ordered a sail-by “salute” to the Tuscan island.

A file photo taken on January 16th, 2012 shows the wrecked cruise liner Costa Concordia in the harbour of the Tuscan island of Giglio after it ran aground on January 13th. Photo by Andreas SOLARO / AFP

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.”

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

Schettino, who was 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.

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

A file photo taken on January 14th, 2012 shows paramedics carrying Costa Concordia passenger on a stretcher at Giglio’s Porto Santo Stefano. Photo: Filippo MONTEFORTE / AFP

Pianist Antimo Magnotta fell off his stool while playing in the Vienna Bar 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.

“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.

Suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder, the musician moved to London and found work as a waiter at the Victoria and Albert Museum cafe, 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 – dubbed “Captain Coward” in the media – 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.

Costa Concordia captain Francesco Schettino in court on the last day of his trial in Grosseto on February 11th, 2015. Photo: Alberto PIZZOLI / AFP

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.

By AFP’s Ella Ide

A woman looks out at the the partially submerged Costa Concordia cruise ship on January 16th, 2012. Photo: Filippo MONTEFORTE / AFP

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