“Mama? It’s me. This is terrible. I don’t know if we will see each other again. The ship is sinking and we haven’t been able to reach safety yet. No, no, don’t cry. Let’s pray, mama, let’s also pray for all of the people who like me are near death.” So said Angela Castellani, a 35-year-old musician from Mantua to her mother from the Costa Concordia disaster at the island of Giglio on the Italian coast. Like the other passengers, Castellani and her husband Diego Schiavo (35) had expected a dream vacation on the luxurious ship that on the evening of January 13 departed the port of Civitavecchia and by 10 pm had reached the resort island of Giglio, bound for Barcelona. The married couple was seated at table in one of the many restaurants on board. While awaiting their dinner, disaster struck.
“There was a great crash,” reported Castellani, according to Italian media, “then everything fell.” The lights on the luxury vessel went out, while the black water began to rush into the gas on the port side. The ship listed as passengers and crew scrambled for life jackets and life boats. Thinking that they had reached the end, Castellani decided to call her mother to say good-bye. The young married woman spoke for nearly half an hour with her mother, seeking comfort. The elder woman told her daughter, “Treasure, who must have faith; let’s pray the Our Father together and stay with me on the telephone, don’t lose heart.”
Even so, the young couple – faced with the panic on board and near prospect of death – thought to throw themselves to the mercy of the sea despite the darkness and chilling cold. Others did so, and are now among the missing.
Fortunately, the young woman and her husband were later rescued and taken ashore. Castellani called her mother and tearfully said “I am alive and well.”
Not so for the 11 passengers now confirmed dead. Some of the corpses have been brought up by Italian navy divers. At least one was found in a flooded cabin with his lifejacket on. At least 15 persons are missing.
Captain Francesco Schettino, the flamboyant skipper of the Costa Concordia, is now in jail and awaiting trial for manslaughter, among other crimes. It is reported that Schettino had taken a risky manoeuvre on his way out to open sea in order to pay tribute to a couple of friends, Mario Palombo and Antonio Tievoli, two retirees who now live on the island of Giglio. Striking a reef just yards away from shore, the Costa Concordia began taking on water immediately after a gash more than one hundred feet long resulted. Nevertheless, despite the tremendous crash and boom reported by passengers, no announcement came from the bridge for a half hour.
A recording made by the Italian coast guard (see video above) revealed the drama of the sinking, while also demonstrating that Schettino had left his post and was in a lifeboat, despite regulations. A coast guard officer identified as ‘DeFalco’ remonstrated the skipper and demanded that he return immediately to coordinate the rescue. DeFalco yelled into the radio to Schettino, “You get back on board! That is an order! There is nothing else for you to consider. You have sounded the "Abandon Ship." Now I am giving the orders. Get back on board. Is that clear? Don't you hear me?”
Navy divers are now blasting holes in the doomed ship in the hope of finding any passengers or crew still alive and trapped inside the sinking hulk. While there were initial reports that crewmembers left their stations to save themselves, an eyewitness – a Catholic chaplain – said that both he and crewmembers remained behind long enough to aid the injured and other passengers to lifeboats and safety. The probability of finding any missing people now diminishes every hour since the Friday the 13th cataclysm.