It was a freezing night on January 13, 2012. The cruise ship had begun a 7-day voyage from Civitavecchia (Lazio, Italy) to Savona and five other ports. At 9:45 pm, it was sailing in the Tyrrhenian Sea off the coast of Tuscany. Many of the 4,200 passengers were dining in the restaurant where “My Heart Will Go On,” the theme song from the movie Titanic, was playing. Suddenly, there was a loud bang: dishes crashed to the floor, electric power was lost, and chaos ensued.
The island of Giglio si one of 7 that form the Tuscan Archipelago. It lies about 10 miles from Porto Santa Stefano on the Tuscan mainland. The mountainous island is about 8 square miles; lacking an airport, the only was to reach the island is by ferry. There are three principal settlements on the island; the largest is Giglio Porto, a fishing village on the eastern coastal side, which has about 500 residents.
It was near Giglio Porto on that fateful night that the Costa Concordia struck an underwater reef, and the impact produced a gash in the hull of more than 230 feet long. Water gushed in. Evacuation from a tilting vessel as high as a skyscraper was complicated by lack of access to the lifeboats. Many of the passengers were rescued by helicopter and by motor boats in the area. Although the six-hour rescue effort brought most of the passengers ashore, 34 people died–27 passengers, five crew, and later, two members of the salvage team.
The hospitality of the tight-knit community of islanders kicked in, at first to give basic assistance to the 4,229 evacuees. Then, in no time, Giglio residents hosted thousands of journalists, law enforcement officers and rescue experts who descended on the port. In the months to come, salvage teams set up camp in the picturesque harbor to work on safely removing the ship, an operation that took more than two years to complete.
On January 13, 2022, 10 years to the day after the tragedy, a remembrance Mass was attended by victims’ families, by passengers, by residents of the village, and by Italian authorities. They threw a crown of flowers into the waters where the Costa Concordia ran aground. At 9:45 pm, a candlelit procession illuminated the port’s quay, while church bells ran and ship sirens blared.
The shipwreck of the Costa Concordia was a tragedy in so many ways. Many lives were lost, and many people were injured. The ship’s captain is serving a 16-year sentence in a Roman prison for manslaughter and for abandoning the ship before the evacuation was completed. Other officers and crew members plea-bargained for lesser sentences.
The accident also tells a different story…beginning with the skilled rescuers who saved thousands of lives and the residents who provided solace and safety. The salvage of the cruise ship was one of the largest and most impressive in maritime operations. The parbuckle salvage began in September 2013 in which a sunken vessel is righted using rotational leverage. The team was able to set the ship uprights without further damaging the underwater ecosystem that had been damaged when the ship ran aground. Flotation devices enabled it to be towed 200 miles to Genova where it was scrapped in 2017.
The shipwreck also forever changed the lives of many people whose paths crossed as a result of the tragedy. Friendships were made, business relations took shape, and even new families formed. One man from Ancona, for example, came to the island to work with the divers and had to buy boat-repair supplies from the only hardware store in town. He me the store owner’s daughter, and today they have a six-year old son together.
Today many Giglio residents still stay in touch with the outside world through the people who temporarily lived in Giglio Porto. As the priest remembers: “So many nationalities…the world was at our doorstop all of a sudden. And naturally we opened it.