Jan 13, 2013 10:22 AM by Associated Press
GIGLIO, Italy (AP) - Survivors of the Costa Concordia shipwreck and relatives of the 32 people who died marked the first anniversary of the grounding Sunday with the unveiling of memorials to the victims, a Mass in their honor and a minute of silence to recall the exact moment that the cruise ship rammed into a reef off Tuscany.
The first event of Sunday's daylong commemoration was the return to the sea of part of the massive rock that tore a 70-meter (230-foot) gash into the hull of the ocean liner on Jan. 13, 2012. The boulder remained embedded in the mangled steel as the 112,000-ton vessel capsized along with its 4,200 passengers and crew.
As fog horns wailed, a crane on a tug lowered the boulder onto the reef off Giglio, returning it to the seabed 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 honoring rescue crews. A minute of silence was scheduled for 9:45 p.m., 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.
The captain, Francesco Schettino, is accused of multiple manslaughter, causing a shipwreck and leaving the ship before all passengers were evacuated. He hasn't been charged but is living under court-ordered restrictions pending a decision on whether to indict him. Schettino maintains he saved lives by bringing the ship closer to shore rather than letting it sink in the open sea, and claims the reef he hit wasn't on his nautical charts.
In an interview broadcast Sunday with RAI state television, Schettino again defended his actions and said he wanted to "share in the pain of all the victims and the families of the victims."
Taking part in the anniversary commemoration was Capt. Gregorio De Falco of the Italian coast guard, who became something of a hero to survivors after his recorded conversations with Schettino during the evacuation were made public. In them, De Falco excoriated Schettino for having abandoned the ship before all passengers were off and ordered him to return, shouting the now-infamous order "Go on board (expletive)!"
De Falco said he wanted to go to Giglio to "embrace the victims, and the relatives of the victims." De Falco, who has shied from all media attention since the disaster, said he did so out of respect for the victims.
"I'm not a hero," he told reporters in Giglio on Sunday. "I just did my job."
Also on hand was Kevin Rebello, brother of Costa waiter Russel Rebello, one of the two victims whose bodies were never recovered. Kevin Rebello spent weeks on Giglio in the aftermath of the disaster awaiting word of the fate of his brother and said he couldn't sleep ahead of Sunday's anniversary.
"I have been constantly thinking it is going to be again the same agony, even tonight, because it is going to be the same exact moment when all this happened," he told Associated Press on Sunday. "So my heart is beating a bit faster I guess."
The Concordia remains on its side, grounded off Giglio's port. Officials now say it will take until possibly September to prepare the ship to be rolled upright and towed from the rocks to a port to be dismantled. The cost has also swelled to â‚¬400 million ($530 million).
While Sunday's commemoration was focused on the relatives of those who died, Giglio's residents were also being remembered for having opened their doors to the survivors who came ashore that night, cold, wet and traumatized after a chaotic evacuation.
"It was something that was too big for us," said Giglio resident Silvana Anichini. "We are just not used to things like this, and then it turned out to be one of the biggest shipwrecks in the world."
Italian President Giorgio Napolitano sent a message of thanks to the island, praising its people for their "high sense of civic duty and humanity."
Many survivors have stayed in touch with their Giglio hosts, connected in ways they didn't ever expect. Claudia Urru, who stayed home in Sardinia on the anniversary, says she speaks monthly with the Giglio family that took her family and the two other families she was traveling with into their home that night, giving them warm clothes and food.
For Christmas, her Giglio family sent a package of local sweets, and they have discussed having a reunion in Sardinia.
"This is the only thing good that has come of it," Urru said by phone last week.
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