Costa Concordia 1 year later: Survivors attempt to move on
(CBS News) This weekend marks one year since the Costa Concordia disaster off the tiny island of Giglio, Italy. The cruise liner ran aground and capsized while sailing too close to land, and 32 people were killed.
In the year since the Costa Concordia ran aground, the more than 4,000 survivors have looked to move on in various ways. However, CBS News spoke with five passengers about the memories that still haunt them from the ordeal.
Benji Smith recalled, "People were screaming. It was really -- this was the most scared we had been at this point, and we're finally -- we felt like, 'Now we're going to die'."
Smith and his wife Emily Lau were on their honeymoon when the Costa Concordia struck a rock off the coast of Tuscany, Italy, and began to sink.
Lau said, "When we went up with our life jackets, there were so many people. And people were crying, old people, young people. And I looked at Benji. I said, 'Hey -- I don't want to push. Is that OK with you?' And he said, 'Yeah, I don't want to push either.' So I said, 'OK, if we don't push, we will be at the end of the line. That means we definitely won't get on a lifeboat and then we might die, is that OK with you?' ... And he said, 'Yeah. That's OK with me.' And I knew at that moment that I had married my soul mate."
On the other side of the ship, Brian Aho, his wife Joan Fleser and their daughter Alana were scrambling for a lifeboat.
Brian Aho said, "Everybody was pushing and shoving to get aboard it. But they wouldn't let anyone on until they blew the actual 'abandon ship' signal."
Alana Aho said she was thinking she was just happy to have made it to a lifeboat. "I was the last one on and I got separated from my parents. And my mom actually grabbed my ankles and like, pulled me into the boat. ... There were two younger guys that didn't make it onto our lifeboat and they were just screaming and yelling."
Brian Aho added, "It was heartbreaking to see people that were left behind, but there was nothing we could do."
Benji Smith said he found a rope that he and his wife used to repel down the side of the ship. "We were holding onto the rope for three hours," he said. "Helicopters were coming overhead, there were Coast Guard boats (that spotted us.) There's infrared imagery of the people on the side of the ship waving to helicopters. And so you can see us as these tiny dots in the infrared imagery when the helicopter was flying overhead."
About 45 minutes later, a returning lifeboat rescued Smith and Lau.
Smith said, "I think for us, this story is really about islands of compassion in this sea of indifference. That the institutions that were supposed to look after us all failed, one after another."
And that, they say, includes the U.S. government.
Fleser said, "When I called the embassy, I said, you know, 'Can you send someone? Can you send an ambassador?' 'Oh, no. That's not gonna happen. We don't send anybody.' 'Can you send a car for us?' 'No. No car.' 'You know, just take a taxi and come on down.' 'Can you get us the money for a taxi?' 'No, we will not give you any money'."
A year after the incident, Fleser said she and her husband have been focusing on crew safety. She said, "We've been to congressional hearings, we've met with representatives. We're working with an attorney to help change cruise laws."
Since the wreck, the cruise industry has tried to change some safety policies, and many cruise lines now do lifeboat drills before their ships ever leave the dock. But it's not a rule. And throughout the industry, other issues that plagued the Costa Concordia's crew, such as standardized language requirements and cross-training with lifeboat operations and firefighting, have generally not been improved.
Brian Aho said he has issues with flashbacks, among other things. Lau said she's had intense post-traumatic stress disorder treatment. She said, "We were told that, 'You guys must go through this, otherwise you will be messed up for the rest of your life'."
Watch CBS News travel editor Peter Greenberg's full report in the video above.
Smith added, "Emily and I both took this experience and we wanted to create something meaningful from this. I wrote a book about the experience, a book that I'm really, really proud of. And Emily composed a CD of original compositions about the experience -- just beautiful, haunting pieces about those moments on the ship and off the ship."
Lau said, "I'm a classical musician, and my whole life I've been trying to you know, perfect something, make it better, make it so perfect. And it has been an obsession my whole life. And fear comes with being a perfectionist. And I think the emotional take for me, you know, after being almost dead, was that I don't have to be so scared any more."
These days cruise liners continue to pass Giglio -- although not so close now -- and what was the biggest shipwreck of its kind has now become the biggest salvage effort ever undertaken.
Watch Allen Pizzey's full report from Giglio in the video below.
The rusting white hull of the once-luxury liner has been overwhelmed by the massive equipment needed to refloat it. Most of the 450 workers live in a blue housing complex moored alongside the wreck. Their job is well underway, and reportedly on-schedule, but it's hard to tell.
The bulk of the work is out of sight, amid eerie debris that still drifts out of the wreck. More than 100 divers are the preparing gigantic anchor points to hold cables that will roll the ship off the rocks. An underwater platform will stabilize the nearly 1,000 feet long liner when it is rolled over. Massive flotation tanks -- some as high as 11 stories -- will be welded to the sides, in effect making a steel life preserver to keep the Costa Concordia afloat.
The 96-ton rock that ripped the hull open has been removed. A piece of it sits in the church that sheltered scores of survivors on the fatal night.
On Sunday, exactly one year after the accident, a memorial service will be held. Rev. Lorenzo Pasquatti, the affable local priest, says the 32 people who died will always be remembered, but the islanders want the wreck gone, so they can get back to what he calls "the natural rhythm of their lives".
"The people would like this to end as soon as possible," he said. "It is becoming too heavy."
The Costa Concordia will be there at least until the fall. However, the lawsuits will undoubtedly drag on even longer. The judicial inquiry into the wreck runs to some 50,000 pages, which will make the trial of Capt. Francesco Schettino on charges of multiple manslaughter and abandoning his ship one of the biggest in Italian legal history. It's scheduled to begin next month.
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