GIGLIO, Italy - Tossing bouquets of red roses into the sea, the relatives of people still missing one month after the Costa Concordia cruise ship disaster mourned in a private tribute Monday.
The family members boarded a small boat that took them 50 yards from the stricken cruise ship, which struck a reef Jan. 13 off the Tuscan coast when its captain made an unauthorized maneuver. Seventeen people died while trying to flee and 15 remain missing and are presumed dead.
The search for the missing was called off after authorities determined it was too risky for the rescue divers.
Among family members at the scene of the tragedy was Susy Albertini, the mother of 5-year-old Dayana Arlotti, who was traveling with her father William, who is also missing. Kevin Rebello, the brother of a missing waiter from India, also attended, as did the families of missing French and German passengers.
The relatives hugged each other as the roses floated on the Mediterranean. Rebello said Monday's anniversary was the hardest day yet since the shipwreck.
"I haven't lost hope yet, anything can still happen, a miracle. He may be injured, he may have lost consciousness, anything may have happened. I still have hope, I always have hope, hope is the last thing to die," Rebello said. "I hope I will find him as soon as possible, to bring him home."
Dayana Arlotti was on the cruise with her father and his girlfriend, who survived the tragedy. William and Dayana disappeared after they returned to the cabin to get medicine for his severe diabetes, the Italian daily Corriere della Sera reported. Family members seeking news called his cell phone for days after the tragedy until it stopped ringing on the fifth day.
A statue of the Virgin Mary was retrieved from the ship and donated by the Costa Crociere SpA cruise company that owns the Concordia was placed in the main port church for memorial Mass held later Monday. Along with relatives of the missing, Costa CEO Pier Luigi Foschi attended the service.
"The feeling that has always been with me during these 30 days and today is sorrow. Sorrow for those who died, for those who are missing," said the Rev. Lorenzo Pasquotti.
After weeks of delays due to bad weather, underwater pumping operations began Sunday to remove some of the 500,000 gallons of fuel aboard the ship, which has threatened to turn the human tragedy into an environmental disaster. Crews on Monday emptied the first of 15 tanks that are believed to hold around 84 percent of the fuel on board, Italy's civil protection department said.
Officials say it will take 28 consecutive days of pumping to empty the tanks.
There have been no reports so far of heavy fuel leaking into the pristine waters off the tiny island of Giglio, which are part of a protected sanctuary for dolphins, whales and proposes.
The Concordia had 4,200 people on board when it slammed into a reef off Giglio after the captain deviated from the ship's planned course in an apparent stunt. Passengers have said the captain then delayed sounding the evacuation alarm until the ship listed so heavily that lifeboats on one side couldn't be lowered.
The captain, Francesco Schettino, is under house arrest, accused of manslaughter, causing a shipwreck and abandoning the ship before all the passengers had been evacuated.
Italian officials have said it will take seven to ten months after the fuel is pumped out for salvage experts to remove the ship from the shore.