Sergio Ortelli, the mayor of the tiny, idyllic island of Giglio, about 12 miles off Italy’s Tuscany coast, has become a maritime salvage expert since the massive Costa Concordia cruiseliner crashed onto his island’s shores the night of January 13, 2012. The island’s permanent population is just under 900, and when the Concordia capsized with 4,229 passengers and crew on board, the wave of humanity that poured onto the island sent the residents into a state of shock they have not yet recovered from.
Since then, more than 500 salvage workers have taken over the place, in an 18-month scramble to reinforce the damaged hulk, free it from the underwater rocks it is snagged on and float it away. They are scheduled to pull the ship free in the next few weeks. If the operation goes well it will be the greatest success in the history of maritime salvage. But if a single thing goes wrong, the boat will tear apart or sink whole, causing an environmental disaster (see “Refloating the Wrecked Costa Concordia Cruise Ship Could Ruin Marine Sanctuary” ). Either way, the island and its people will never be the same, because the bloody night of the accident and the occupation since then have left an indelible mark. “How can we forget the survivors who looked to us for help, or the families who came to get the bodies of their loved ones?” Ortelli asks.