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Moment that mattered: The Costa Concordia runs aground

In this picture taken on Friday, Jan. 13, 2012 and made available on Wednesday, Jan. 25, 2012, the luxury cruise ship Costa Concordia lays on its starboard side after it ran aground off the coast of the Isola del Giglio island, Italy, gashing open the hull and forcing some 4,200 people aboard to evacuate aboard lifeboats to the nearby Isola del Giglio island. About 1,000 Italian passengers were onboard, as well as more than 500 Germans, about 160 French and about 1,000 crew members. (AP Photo/Giuseppe Modesti)

“I spend all my working days in either Milan or Rome, but on Friday 13th I had some time off with my family and we were in a house at Porto Santo Stefano, an island directly opposite the Isla del Giglio. At 5 o’clock on the Saturday morning I was awoken by a call from my editor. He said, ‘Marco, where are you? You have to get to the Isla del Giglio, a boat has run aground there.’ I said, ‘It’s our lucky day, I am just in front of the island!’ A coincidence like that happens once in a lifetime.

I didn’t understand the dimensions of the disaster. I told my wife that there was a problem with a boat, that I was going to have a look and that I would be back in a few hours to write up the story. I didn’t see her for the next 15 days. By 6am I was on the boat going to Isla del Giglio to pick up survivors. As we approached the island I saw a huge white line: at first I thought it was a bank of seagulls but then I realised it was the Costa Concordia. It was hard to take in the sheer size of it.

I was one of the first journalists to reach the Isla del Giglio. For a couple of days before the story became a worldwide obsession, I spoke to the people who recovered the survivors on the beach and to the survivors themselves. They told me all the things that afterwards became the subject of the inquiry. Those two days were like a window opened on the truth.

I went to a small hotel, Hotel Bahamas, and saw a guy wearing a white shirt. He was upset, he was looking at a map on a table and swearing. I heard him say, ‘That fucking rock, it was not supposed to be here!’ It was Captain Schettino and when I talked to him it seemed as though he had no idea where the boat had been at the point of impact.

Some people told me about the strange story of the inquino, a mark of respect made supposedly by the Costa Concordia to the parents of the chief steward Antonello Tievoli, who live on the Isla del Giglio. I saw online that his sister had written on Facebook that her brother’s ship was going to ‘salute’ her family by passing close to the island. I went to Tievoli’s home and met his parents. We were talking in a room with a big window and when I looked outside I realised with shock that I could see rocks which could have been the ones which destroyed the Costa Concordia.

The bad behaviour of Captain Schettino is clear – he made a lot of mistakes and he left the boat, which is unjustifiable – but I am convinced that you can’t put all the blame on his shoulders. The story of the single ‘bad boy’ is too easy. What about the other people who were working on the ship and the people in Genoa, in the operations centre of Costa Crociere?

Italy is in the midst of an economic crisis and the image of that wrecked boat suddenly became the image of Italy. The new government is making a new law to cut bureaucracy, which they hope will make dismantling the boat quicker. None of us want that image of the Costa Concordia dying on its side to represent Italy any more.”

Marco Imarisio is the author of ‘Costa Concordia: The True Story’

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