herald

Tuesday 19 September 2017

Sail-past stunt was acciden t waiting to happen

AS a clearer picture emerges of the events that led to the Costa Concordia sailing into rocks off the island off Giglio, it is becoming obvious that it was an accident waiting to happen.

Evidence is emerging that the local mayor appeared to encourage huge liners to approach this tiny island, partly as a crowd pleaser, partly in homage to a retired but legendary Costa Crociere captain and Giglio native, Mario Palombo.

In a letter written last August, which was posted on a local website, Giglio mayor Sergio Ortelli personally thanked another Costa Crociere captain for making a crowd-pleasing "sail by".

The revelation raised the question of whether the fatal decision to bring the cruise ship closer to the island was part of regular routine.

Mayor Ortelli has denied that potentially disastrous diversions were the norm.

"It's absolutely not normal practice and my words were directed at the then commander of the Concordia, Massimo Calisto Garbinarino, who was navigating on August 9, who gave the tourists a treat -- in complete safety -- and who may have wanted to salute an old sea commander (an apparent reference to Mr Palombo)," he said.

One of Mr Palombo's neighbours, Vilma (71) defended him against suggestions he encouraged liners to attempt crowd-pleasing sorties.

"He's a very respected person on the island," she said. "A famous seaman, and I can't believe he would encourage something like this. He knows the local waters too well. That captain must have been new."

It was also suggested that the "sail past"could have been a favour to another local -- this time on board the vessel -- the Concordia's chief steward Antonello Tievoli.

Yesterday it emerged that his sister had excitedly told her friends about the display in advance on Facebook.

"In a short period of time the Concordia ship will pass very close," she wrote. "A big greeting to my brother who finally gets to have a holiday on landing in Savona!"

A short while later, Captain Francesco Schettino -- who is now in police custody -- took Tievoli to the bridge.

"Antonello, come and see. We're right on top of Giglio," they told him, according to local newspaper reports.

Tievoli duly went and looked. "Watch out. We're very close to shore," he warned. But it was too late. He later told fellow islanders: "I would never have imagined that I'd end up disembarking on my own island like this."

Bruno Leporatti, the lawyer for Captain Schettino, who fled the wreck before his passengers, said he was "overcome and wants to express his greatest condolences to the victims".

But he added that Mr Schettino's actions in anchoring the ship at one end to swing it closer to the shore after the collision, "saved the lives of thousands of people".

hnews@herald.ie

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