Europe

Costa Concordia: Tragedy's full horror exposed

A detail of the previously submerged side of the Costa Concordia is seen after it was lifted upright, on the Tuscan Island of Giglio, Italy, Tuesday, 17 September, 2013.
Image caption Pale red curtains hang in shreds over the previously submerged side of the Costa Concordia

Never forget, this is a story about death; a story about human incompetence, and tragedy; about the actions of several men, employed to sail 4,000 passengers and crew along the Italian coast.

It is a story about how they failed spectacularly, and killed 32 people in the process.

I say this because even here, on the island of Giglio, it has been hard to remember that. Until now, the Costa Concordia did not display the sort of twisted, shattered remains that we saw after a high-speed train slammed into that wall in northern Spain.

Image caption On the waterline in the middle window lies what appears to be a bright red suitcase

What we saw here was not the multiple pile-up on the motorway that so obviously tells its own horror story.

The Costa Concordia was - again, until now - an awesome sight. On its side the first time I saw it, it seemed a work of art, lying there on the pristine blue waters. You could not help but look at it, and be drawn to it.

Sodden curtains

Now the full horror of what happened was exposed. There were the concertinaed floors of luxury cabins. There were the ripped and soaked curtains, hanging limply from the compressed window frames. A bright red suitcase appeared to float in the waters.

There were doors on the starboard walkway that slowly opened and closed as the water flowed through them.

Somewhere on those buckled decks, in the dark of night, on 13 January 2012, stood Dayana Arlotti. She was a five-year-old girl on the cruise ship with her father, and his partner.

He had just put a lifejacket on his daughter, when she slipped. She fell down the side of the ship, into the water. He jumped in after her. Both of them died.

Image caption Satellite photographs show the stricken vessel upright surrounded by salvage boats

I first met the survivors in a hotel at Rome airport. It was hours after they had been rescued. Their adrenalin was still flowing. They spoke of their relief, and of how ordinary crew members had been fantastic, and how Giglio's islanders had given them warm clothes.

Already, though, at that stage they were questioning the actions of senior staff employed by the shipping company, Costa Cruises.

Why, they wondered, had the alarm not been sounded earlier? Why did the order to evacuate the ship come so late?

Since then, of course, much has happened. Five crew members have been found guilty of manslaughter and negligence. The captain is still on trial. And now, the Costa Concordia is closer to being moved away from the island of Giglio.

Economic boom

Before that move happens, two more bodies need to be found.

It is thought that Maria Grazia Trecarichi, a passenger on board for her 50th birthday, and Russel Rebello, a waiter, are still inside. A thorough search will now take place, once the ship is made safe.

Imagine waiting 20 months to reclaim the body of a loved one.

Image caption The wreck has given some islanders an economic boost, but others want Giglio to be rid of an unwelcome sight

Then, and not before time, the ship will be refloated and towed away. After the success of the rotation, the salvage teams are now sure that will be possible.

When it happens, Giglio will be allowed to return to the "quiet and simplicity" that one shopkeeper here, Elena Costa, says used to characterise her island.

"It's enough," she says. "I want it to leave the island."

A group of school children looked over the wall of the harbour here, across at the newly upright ship against the skyline.

A teacher on Giglio, Rosa Mattera, said the children too would be happy to see it go. "They can't wait for the ship to leave. They're worried about their sea."

So far, we are told, there has been no pollution from the wreck since the operation to rotate her.

Another local, Samantha Brizzi, who runs a holiday rental company, said the hundreds of engineers and salvage workers who had been on the island had provided an economic boom for Giglio. "They've been so professional, and nice to have around."

They will be here a while longer. But by next summer the teams hope - in the words of the salvage manager - to be off the island, and "on the golf course".

Giglio would like that too.