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Thu Oct 23 05:01:52 SAST 2014

Grieving relatives mark Italy shipwreck anniversary

Sapa-AFP | 13 January, 2013 15:58
The capsized cruise liner Costa Concordia lies surrounded by cranes outside Giglio harbour January 13, 2013. Sunday marks the first anniversary of the Costa Concordia shipwreck in which 32 people died.
Image by: STEFANO RELLANDINI / REUTERS

Grieving relatives of the 32 victims of the Costa Concordia cruise ship disaster laid flowers by the giant wreck under a leaden sky on Sunday at the start of an emotional commemoration on the Italian island of Giglio one year after the tragedy.

Salvage workers on a tugboat also used a crane to lower into the sea a piece of the enormous rock that the Costa Concordia crashed into and then tore from its base before veering sharply and keeling over with 4,229 people from 70 countries on board.

A ship's horn sounded out 32 times in memory of those who died, its blares echoing across the water as the rock slowly descended into the sea and tearful families looked on from another ship.

"I want justice for my family and for all the victims," said Susy Albertini, mother of a five-year-old girl who perished with her father.

Ten people are being investigated over the tragedy including the ship's infamous captain Francesco Schettino and three executives from the ship's owner Costa Crociere but no indictments have been handed out and a trial is still months away.

"This is very difficult for us," said Maddelein Soria, 35, the sister of Erika Fani Soria Molina, a Peruvian waitress on the ship who perished.

"I feel as if I am with her again," she told AFP.

Twelve of the victims on the luxury liner were from Germany, seven from Italy, six from France, two from Peru, two from the United States, one from Hungary, one from India and one from Spain.

Survivors of the disaster who came for the ceremony re-lived the panic of that night, when hundreds had to jump into the freezing waters, clamber down a rope ladder in the dark or be evacuated by helicopter after several lifeboats failed to deploy.

"We came because we wanted to express our gratitude. We survived," said Ronald Dots from Spain, who was with his wife and their son when tragedy struck.

French survivor Jacques Masson said: "The more time passes, the more I feel traumatised... I know I will never come back to this island."

Another French survivor, Daniele Dubuc, broke down in tears upon stepping off a ferry -- the first time she had been back on a ship since that night.

"I think it's important to be here," she said.

Dubuc said she and her husband loved ballroom dancing and had enjoyed dances on the cruise, but "the tragedy has made us lose the will to dance".

Many said they also came to thank local residents who rushed to pluck shivering survivors from the water and brought them food and blankets.

Costa Crociere, Europe's biggest cruise operator, had asked passengers in a letter to stay away from the ceremony on the island because of a lack of space, infuriating many survivors.

Costa Crociere said it will mark the day by holding masses in the chapels of all its vessels around the world and flying their flags at half mast.

In the countries of origin of many of the crew, the company is also organising masses in Peru and the Philippines, Muslim rites in Indonesia, Hindu services in India and a Buddhist ceremony in China.

Among those attending the ceremony on Giglio was coast guard official Gregorio De Falco, who upbraided Schettino with an expletive in a phone call when the man dubbed "Captain Coward" refused to get back on the ship to aid the evacuation.

At a crowded mass in the same church that served as a temporary refuge for many survivors that night, some objects from the ship were put on display during the service -- a life jacket, a length of rope, some bread and a statue of the Virgin Mary.

"You are at home in this church," Father Lorenzo Pasquotti, who opened the doors of his church that night, told the returning survivors.

After a minute of silence at 2045 GMT, the exact time the ship crashed, all the fishing boats in this seafaring community of 1,500 souls will sound their sirens in tribute to the victims.

The 290-metre liner crashed into a group of rocks just off Giglio, veered sharply and keeled over just as many passengers were sitting down for supper on the first night of a Mediterranean cruise.

Salvage work coordinators on Saturday said an unprecedented $400 million operation to refloat and remove the ship for scrapping will be completed by September.

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