The tragedy of the Costa Concordia “teaches us that tragic and even systemic mistakes can be made, because I believe that there is a criminal offender, but there are also others responsible for this tragedy”, the undersecretary of the presidency of the Tip, Franco Gabrielli, who then served as head of civil protection and later emergency commissioner.
“And it teaches us that it is possible to redeem oneself, to remedy mistakes, and also that where correct synergies are achieved extraordinary things can be achieved,” he added.
The Shipwreck of the Cruise Ship is an Italian story, full of carelessness, understatement and strangers turned into heroes. In the late afternoon of January 13, 2012, he was moving slowly towards the island of Giglio, in Tuscany. The captain decided to approach the coast to greet, in a small gesture with the maitre d of the ship, a native of that area. The maneuver, called “reverence”, culminated in disgrace: when hitting the rocks the ship’s case was opened and it was quickly flooded.
From the windows of the ocher-colored house a hundred steps from the port of Giglio where Mamiliana Rossi, the woman to whom the bow was dedicated, lives, the rocks are seen so close that they almost seem to touch. Antonello Tievoli, the maitre d ‘of the Costa Concordia, had called her shortly before the disaster: “Mom, I’m here tonight.” And he had told it at the trial: “My window is a little covered and I did not see the ship immediately, but the night of the shipwreck I saw the lights go out, something different than usual.”
In retrospect, that of the Costa Concordia is a story without mysteries: a 290-meter-long boat with 4,229 people on board -32 of whom never returned home- ends up on rocks millimeters from the island by a series of incredible euphemisms and oversights. But it is also the story of complete strangers who, without thinking about the consequences of the decisions they made that night, risked their lives to save even one more. And they succeeded.
Mario Pellegrini, who was the deputy mayor of Giglio, was the first to board the ship: he helped evacuate hundreds of people, a dozen snatched from the cesspools that had become the corridors. “Looking back on those moments over the years, wondering if I did everything I could, in the end I said to myself, yes, I couldn’t do more,” he said, wearing the same jacket as ten years ago.
Another of the unknown heroes is Ennio Aquilino. He was the chief of the Grosseto fire brigade and was one of the first to climb the Costa Concordia. “When I saw it I couldn’t believe it. I said to myself: ‘What do we do now?’ We were looking for the command line, but it wasn’t there, everything had disappeared, “he said.
The firefighters knew that the ship could sink. “We couldn’t have done anything, going up we had married the fate of whoever was up there. Looking back later, the feeling was like what the firefighters who entered the Twin Towers must have felt. We did better”, Aquilino recalled.
Captain Schettino, his escape and his lover
The negative symbol in this story can only be Schettino, the commander serving a 16-year sentence. The maneuver was his doing, as were the delays in abandoning the ship, one hour and 9 minutes after the impact.
But it was immediately clear that Schettino was the perfect culprit, also by his attitude, starting with the excuse with which he claimed not to have left the ship: “I slipped in a lifeboat.”
The conversation with Gregorio De Falco, the Commander of the Livorno Captaincy, who did not understand how Schettino was not on his ship. The recording was immediately leaked. The dialogue is tense from the beginning.
From Livorno, De Falco introduces himself and asks Schettino to identify himself. Then with an urgent tone he tells her that there is a rope ladder at the bow, that he should go towards her and that she can get back on the boat. Schettino calmly tells him that he is directing the rescue efforts from the boat that took him out of the sea. De Falco grows impatient. He orders him to go up, that there are people trapped. Let them report from there if they are children, women or the elderly and see what their needs are. Schettino seems not to acknowledge receipt. You can tell that you have no interest in getting back on your cruise ship. “What are you doing there? Get on the boat now. That’s an order!” the commander yelled at him from the other side of the radio.
– Right now the boat is tilted … – Schettino tries to justify himself.
– I understand. At this moment there are people coming down the bow ladder. You go the other way up that ladder. Come up and tell me how many people there are and what things they have on board. Is it clear? And tell me if there are boys, women or people who need assistance. And it tells me the exact number of each of these categories. Is it clear? Look Schettino, you may have been saved from the sea but now you are going to really do badly. I’m going to make him have a very bad time. Go on board- replies Commander De Falco furiously.
– Commander, please …
– Nothing please. Get on board right now. Assure me that you are going
– I’m going with the rescue boat. I’m here, I’m not going anywhere. I’m here.
– What are you doing commander?
– I’m coordinating the rescue.
– What will be coordinating there! Go aboard. Coordinate the rescue from there. Are you refusing?
De Falco, days later declared: “Abandoning ship is more than deserting. It is betraying the Maritime Code ”. In the course of the less than four minute conversation, Commander De Falco ordered Schettino to come back on board more than ten times.
To this story we must add one more character. Someone who was on the Costa Concordia but whose presence became known much later, Captain Schettino’s mistress.
Domnica Cemortan She was a young Moldovan dancer who accepted an offer almost impossible to refuse from Schettino: a few days aboard that luxurious hotel on the sea with all payment and without restrictions on the use of its facilities. When at trial they asked her how she managed to board the ship, she responded naturally: “When you are the captain’s mistress when you get on, they don’t ask for your ticket.”
The captain was married at the time – his wife left him after the shipwreck and his relationship with Cermotan became known. That made Italian public opinion hate him even more. The night of the incident they had dined together and after the desserts, Schettino and the young Moldovan climbed the command bridge to better appreciate the Island of Giglio when they passed in front of it.
Schettino, however, is not the only culprit. Because he did not invent the bow and because other officers and members of the Costa negotiated sanctions admitting their responsibilities. Among them, the head of the crisis unit in Genoa, Roberto Ferrarini, with whom Schettino spoke several times after the accident, and helmsman Jacob Rusli Bin, who did not understand the orders and turned left instead of right.
However, on the cruise, there were also those who did their duty. And in fact they did much more. Like Sandro Cinquini and Simone Canessa, ship doctor and cartographer. “Canessa did not want to abandon ship,” Pellegrini said. “He said ‘I am the highest ranking officer on board, I have to stay here’. He was almost hypothermic, they managed to convince him at 5 in the morning, but they had to work hard.”
Giglio awaits the anniversary celebrations as in January 2012: deserted. The shops, the hotels, the windswept pier closed. Authorities and castaways will arrive, Kevin Rebello will return, Russel’s brother, the Indian waiter who was the last victim to be returned, a thousand days after the sinking.
Ten years later, Kevin clarified that “all this pain could have been avoided had it not been for the reverence.”