Reports are streaming out of Italy as the full horror of the sinking of the Costa Concordia cruiseship becomes known. At least six people are confirmed dead, while scores more are still missing and presumed dead or trapped within the hull of the ship that is keeled over, just yards away from the Italian shore. Criminal proceedings await the captain of the sunken vessel, while survivors are lodged in churches and public buildings on the island of Giglio, off the coast of Tuscany. There were over 4000 passengers on board. Passengers were eating dinner on a luxury cruise at around 10:00 pm, having departed the port of Civitavecchia earlier in the evening.

Passengers complained that little or no effective notice was given of the danger they were facing as the Concordia struck a underwater obstruction as it neared port on Friday, January 13. There are reports that passenger not been given a drill in donning their life jackets or the procedure for boarding life boats. As the great ship began to heel, there were reports that crewmen and passengers rushed to lifeboats, heedless of others as panic ensued. Some dove into the icy water in an attempt to reach shore.

Apostleship of the Sea, a Catholic seafarer's agency, described how a Catholic chaplain, Fr. Raffaele Mallena (70), on board the Costa Concordia, came to the aid of passengers and crewmembers, some of whom were injured. National Director of the Apostleship of the Sea in Italy, Fr Giacomo Martino, said: "The work of cruise chaplains onboard is of great value to encourage and support crew and passengers at difficult moments." Praising the crew of Costa Concordia, he said:  "The crew worked to save passengers with great generosity and a spirit of selflessness."

Fr Mallena said that during dinner, “he felt immediately that something was very, very wrong”, according to Fr Martino. He went to the chapel to pray and  when he realised the “abandon ship” alarm was sounding, he consumed the Eucharist and locked the staff’s valuables, including jewellery and money, in a safe. During the chaos that followed, the priest tried to stay aboard with the crew but was persuaded it would be better if he boarded a lifeboat and left the sinking ship.

Fr Martino said that Fr Mallena is now in Rome and recovering from his ordeal. Fr Martino reported that Fr Mallena is “very upset because as the first interviews came out, everyone was saying that the crew was not taking care of passengers and so on. But I am a personal witness of people leaving their families and children and I saw personal sacrifice. There was a staff captain, for example, who saved three or four people who could not swim.”

Thousands of passengers are now at the Savona cruise terminal where the local Apostleship of the Sea is joining other agencies to distribute clothing and food. It is also providing spiritual and emotional support. Fr Mallena and parishioners on the island of Giglio, where the ship sank, worked during the night to assist those leaving the ship. Fr Giacomo called for prayers to be offered for the dead and missing. 

Each year the Apostleship of the Sea deploys  chaplains on many cruise lines to support the pastoral and practical welfare of crew and passengers. Last year more than 700 cruise chaplains  provided 15,000 days of cruise chaplaincy across the world.




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Spero News writer Martin Barillas is a former US diplomat, who also worked as a democracy advocate and election observer in Latin America. His first novel 'Shaken Earth', is available at Amazon.

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