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Cruise Ship's Salvage A Wreck For Italian Island

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Cruise Ship's Salvage A Wreck For Italian Island

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Cruise Ship's Salvage A Wreck For Italian Island

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SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Scott Simon. It's been six months since the Costa Concordia cruise ship capsized a few yards from the shore of a Tuscan island. Italian prosecutors faulted the ship's captain for the accident. Thirty people were killed. Two are still missing. NPR's Sylvia Poggioli was there as relatives of the dead attended a memorial service near the site of the disaster.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

SYLVIA POGGIOLI, BYLINE: The solemn notes of Mozart's "Requiem" echoed through the small church of Saints Lorenzo and Mamiliano on the island of Giglio. It was the same church that on a cold night in January sheltered many of the 4,200 passengers and crew members of the Costa Concordia. On that night, in an effort to entertain the passengers with a close-up view of the island, Capt. Francesco Schettino had rammed the vessel into a rocky reef just a few dozen yards from shore.

One of the stupidest of maritime accidents ever was followed by chaotic evacuation. The captain has been charged with multiple manslaughter, causing the accident and abandoning ship. Schettino was released this week from house arrest. In his first TV interview, he blamed his officers.

CAPTAIN FRANCESCO SCHETTINO: (Through Translator) This was a banal accident in which, fate would have it, there was a breakdown in communication between people. And this created misunderstandings and anger.

POGGIOLI: Schettino's remarks infuriated relatives of the dead, as well as Mayor Sergio Ortelli.

MAYOR SERGIO ORTELLI: (Through Translator) A captain cannot shift blame onto his officers and a ship with more than 4,000 people on board cannot be put under the command of such an amateur.

POGGIOLI: Elio Vincenzi, whose wife, Maria Grazia, is still listed among the missing was even more dismissive of the captain.

ELIO VINCENZI: (Through Translator) It was not the sea that took away my wife. It was human stupidity.

POGGIOLI: The Costa Concordia lies on its side 100 yards from the harbor. A huge hunk of granite weighing some 80 tons is still embedded in the hull of the marooned ship. Once removed, it will be used as a memorial for dead. The mammoth vessel is an eyesore and oppressive reminder of tragedy for local residents. Matteo Bellomo has had a second home here for 50 years.

MATTEO BELLOMO: To wake up every morning and to see this thing, from my point of view, it is terrible, okay. Because every time you look at that, you also think to the people there, and to the people that died, and to the two people that they have not found.

POGGIOLI: Giglio Island has long been cherished as a hidden paradise in the Tuscan archipelago. It's in Europe's biggest marine sanctuary, with crystal-clear waters rich in flora and fauna. But now, the marooned hulk dominates the Giglio skyline and has become a sinister attraction of what some call disaster tourism, drawing hundreds of gawking tourists who snap away at the photo opportunity.

The shipwreck has altered the local economy. The mayor says tourism income has dropped by 50 percent. Traditional nature lovers who came for a week or more have been replaced by day-trippers. Islanders can't wait to see the ship's removal.

NICK SLOANE: It's the biggest salvage operation ever undertaken.

POGGIOLI: Nick Sloane is the senior salvage master for the project.

SLOANE: The sheer size of the Costa Concordia, you know, being two-and-a-half football fields long and the weight that we're dealing with. So we're dealing with 60,000 tons of weight that's on the rocks right on - in a very exposed part of island.

POGGIOLI: He says the priority is to remove the ship in one piece in order to minimize impact on the environment. Weather permitting, the Costa Concordia should be refloated and towed to a mainland port by early next year. Sylvia Poggioli, NPR News, Giglio Island.

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