Concordia Passenger Says Shipwreck, COVID Outbreaks Prove Safety Not Industry Priority

Approaching the 10-year anniversary of the Costa Concordia cruise shipwreck off a Tuscan island that killed 32 passengers and crew, one of the survivors told the Associated Press that the accident she survived and COVID outbreaks from the past year prove that passenger safety is not the priority cruise ships say it is.

Georgia Ananias, one of 4,200 survivors of the 2012 wreck, told the AP that the poor response by the Concordia's captain and crew showed cruise lines weren't serious about customer safety then, and COVID outbreaks on cruise ships show safety still isn't a priority.

Thursday is the 10-year anniversary of the accident, with a memorial planned in Italy to honor the 32 that died, 4,200 that survived, and residents of the island of Giglio who saved many of the passengers fleeing the ship that night and sheltered them until the next day.

January 13, 2012, the Concordia's captain got too close to the island while trying to perform a stunt, causing the ship to hit a reef off the coast. The ship listed toward the island, and eventually fell completely on its side.

"I always said this will not define me, but you have no choice," Ananias told the AP. "We all suffer from PTSD. We had a lot of guilt that we survived and 32 other people died."

Costa Concordia Cruse Ship Wreck COVID
The cruise ship Costa Concordia lies stricken off the shore of the island of Giglio on January 14, 2012, in Giglio Porto, Italy. The 10-year anniversary of the accident that killed 32 passengers and crew is Thursday. Laura Lezza/Getty Images

Italy on Thursday is marking the 10th anniversary of the Concordia disaster with a daylong commemoration that will end with a candlelit vigil near the moment the ship hit the reef: 9:45 p.m. on January 13, 2012.

"For us islanders, when we remember some event, we always refer to whether it was before or after the Concordia," said Matteo Coppa, who was 23 and out fishing on the jetty when the darkened Concordia listed toward shore and then collapsed onto its side.

"I imagine it like a nail stuck to the wall that marks that date, as a before and after," he said, recounting how he joined the rescue effort that night helping pull ashore the dazed, injured and freezing passengers from lifeboats.

The anniversary comes as the cruise industry, shut down in much of the world for months because of the coronavirus pandemic, is once again in the spotlight because of COVID-19 outbreaks threatening passenger safety. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control last month warned people across the board not to go on cruises, regardless of their vaccination status, because of the risk of infection.

Passengers aboard the Concordia were largely left on their own to find life jackets and a functioning lifeboat after the captain steered the ship close to shore in a stunt. He then delayed an evacuation order until it was too late, with lifeboats unable to lower because the ship was listing too much.

Prosecutors blamed the delayed evacuation order and conflicting instructions given by crew for the chaos that ensued as passengers scrambled to get off the ship. The captain, Francesco Schettino, is serving a 16-year prison sentence for manslaughter, causing a shipwreck and abandoning a ship before all the passengers and crew had evacuated.

Ananias and her family declined Costa's initial $14,500 compensation offered to each passenger and sued Costa, a unit of U.S.-based Carnival Corp., to try to cover the cost of their medical bills and therapy for the post-traumatic stress they have suffered. But after eight years in the U.S. and then Italian court system, they lost their case.

"I think people need to be aware that when you go on a cruise, that if there is a problem, you will not have the justice that you may be used to in the country in which you are living," said Ananias, who went onto become a top official in the International Cruise Victims association, an advocacy group that lobbies to improve safety aboard ships and increase transparency and accountability in the industry.

Costa didn't respond to emails seeking comment on the anniversary. Cruise Lines International Association, the world's largest cruise industry trade association, stressed in a statement to The Associated Press that passenger and crew safety was the industry's top priority and that cruising remains one of the safest vacation experiences available.

"Our thoughts continue to be with the victims of the Concordia tragedy and their families on this sad anniversary," CLIA said. It said it has worked over the past 10 years with the International Maritime Organization and the maritime industry to "drive a safety culture that is based on continuous improvement."

For Giglio Mayor Sergio Ortelli, the memories of that night run the gamut: the horror of seeing the capsized ship, the scramble to coordinate rescue services on shore, the recovery of the first bodies and then the pride that islanders rose to the occasion to tend to the survivors.

Ortelli was then on hand when, in September 2013, the 115,000-ton, 300-meter (1,000-foot) long liner was righted vertical off its seabed graveyard in an extraordinary feat of engineering. But the night of the disaster, a Friday the 13th, remains seared in his memory.

"It was a night that, in addition to being a tragedy, had a beautiful side because the response of the people was a spontaneous gesture that was appreciated around the world," Ortelli said. It seemed the natural thing to do at the time.

"But then we realized that on that night, in just a few hours, we did something incredible."

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Costa Concordia, Cruise Ship Crash, PTSD, Italy
The luxury cruise ship Costa Concordia leans on its side after running aground in the tiny Tuscan island of Giglio, Italy. The city is preparing a memorial for the survivors and victims on January 13, 2022. Gregorio Borgia/Associated Press File

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