Concordia hull a monument to disaster
One year after the luxury liner Costa Concordia ran aground off the Tuscan coast, taking 32 lives, its wreck still lies there, a lumbering hulk of metal enclosed by floating salvage platforms.
Today survivors of the shipwreck and relatives of those who died marked the first anniversary of the grounding today with the unveiling of memorials to the victims, a Mass in their honour and a minute of silence to recall the exact moment that the cruise ship rammed into a reef off Tuscany.
As fog horns wailed, a crane on a tug lowered the boulder onto the reef off Giglio, returning it to where it belongs and affixed with a memorial plaque. Relatives of the dead threw flowers into the sea and embraced as they watched the ceremony from a special ferry that bobbed in the waves under a slate gray sky.
A land-based memorial was being unveiled after a Mass and ceremony honouring rescue crews. A minute of silence was scheduled for later tonight, the exact moment when the Concordia slammed into the reef after the captain took the ship off course in a stunt to bring it closer to Giglio.
Yesterday, salvage companies announced at a news conference that the ship could be removed by the end of the summer, just a few months behind schedule. But they made it clear that setting an exact date would be misleading and unrealistic.
"We are worried, of course, for the overlapping of the removal phases with what is our main economic activity," said Sergio Ortelli, the mayor of the tourism-dependent island of Giglio, which attracts thousands of visitors to its uncontaminated beaches annually.
"We are thinking how to mitigate the effects of a working site this year, which has had an even larger impact than the wreckage itself."
The island is preparing to commemorate the disaster today, the one-year anniversary of the wreck, with a mass for families of victims and survivors. Officials planned to place a plaque on the rock struck by the ship and release 32 lanterns into the sky.
The ship was carrying 4,229 passengers and crew members on a weeklong Mediterranean cruise when it went aground, just as passengers were just sitting down to a late dinner.
Life on the island, with a population of 1,500, has been defined by the wreck off its coastline, and not just because of the 30 per cent to 35 per cent drop in tourism last summer, which many blame both on the Costa Concordia and on Italy's economic crisis.
"I used to wake up in the morning and guess the winds from the way trees moved on those rocks," said Giuseppina Ferraro (66), whose apartment windows overlook the ship. "Now, at any time of day and night, all you see are drilling chimneys, barracks and that haunting wreck. We wake up with the noise of the energy generators and can even switch off the lights at night because you can see clearly, thanks to the lighting system of the platforms."
The efforts of 430 professionals working round the clock to right the Costa Concordia have come up against the complex reality of what has been called the most challenging salvage operation ever performed, the granite rocks underneath the ship and rough seas. Rescue teams have managed to stabilise the ship, which is anchored to underwater granite with four submarine anchor blocks and wires, each able to withstand a thousand-ton force. Twenty-five welders are working to reinforce the hull of the Concordia on the sea side, where the wires and hull projections used for stability and to pull up the vessel will be attached.