As passengers sat down to an elegant dinner, a tremendous bang signalled the start of a night of terror. Initial announcements of an 'electrical failure' were quickly replaced with orders to abandon ship. Later, the rescued passengers were extremely critical of the safety arrangements onboard the ship, claiming that a scheduled safety drill was not carried out and that the crew, many of whom were unable to speak Italian or English, were unfamiliar with evacuation procedures.
There was chaos as the ship listed heavily, leaving the lifeboats on the higher side unusable. Some of passengers jumped into the sea and swam to the shore, others managed to get off the ship in lifeboats. Later, some were rescued by coastguard helicopters arriving at the scene during the night.
Lying just off the Island of Giglio - Photo: Rvongher
Giglio is a holiday island, only 22 square kilometres in area. In the winter, there are approximately 700 people living on the island. The arrival of 4,000 unexpected guests in the middle of the night, many suffering from hypothermia, was a significant challenge. The islanders have been praised for the way they responded to the crisis. The survivors were later taken to Porto Santo Stefano on the nearby Argentario Peninsular.
When interviewed on Italian television, the ship's captain, Francesco Schettino, insisted the rocks that the Concordia hit were not marked on his chart. This claim was contradicted by a spokesman for the local coastguard who stated that the area was very well charted and was a favourite destination for scuba divers precisely because of the rocky seabed.
Initial indications suggests that the ship was steered deliberately close to the Island's harbour to create a spectacle for a crew member who came from Giglio as well as a salute to a former colleague of the captain's who was staying on the island. Although sailing close inshore had become something of a tradition, islanders said that the ship had never come quite so close before. If these reports are true, it will have been an extremely costly stunt. Up to thirty two people are dead, the flagship of the fleet is wrecked and the captain faces up to 2,500 years in prison if convicted of all the charges against him.
Perhaps the ship was always doomed... at the launching ceremony, the traditional bottle of champagne failed to break on the ship's hull, drawing gasps from the watching crowd. Two years later, the ship hit the dockside in the port of Palermo during a storm causing extensive damage. But it wasn't until Friday 13th January, 2011 that disaster finally struck.