One year later, hope sinks for sailor's family

In the wee hours of January 13 last year, Italian cruise liner Costa Concordia hit a reef near the Islola del Giglio, and sank off the Tuscan Coast. The wreckage, said to be as colossal in scale as the Titanic’s, spared most of the 4,000 lives aboard the ship. Families of 32 were, inevitably, left to mourn. The family of one, however, was spared the luxury even of grieving.

Costa Concordia

On January 13, Naigaon resident Russel Rebello, employed aboard the Costa, will have been missing for a year. His family members have been drifting in uncertainty, not knowing whether to fete his memory or keep it alive. But after making several trips to Italy last year in the hope of finding Russel, the family is slowly coming to grips with the fact that he may no more be. They are hoping that his body may at least be found, for them to be able to perform his last rites and find a closure they so fervidly need.

Lives run aground
Speaking to MiD DAY from Milan in Italy, Russel’s elder brother Kevin told MiD DAY, “My aged parents are hoping to find Russell’s body and give him a decent burial. That’s the least he deserves. For the past year, all hell came loose on my family. With my brother still ‘missing’ after a year, we can neither hope nor mourn. I pray to Lord that nobody goes through what we are.”

Russel Rebello parents
The parents and wife of Russel Rebello when MiD DAY had met them at their home last year

“I spent four months following the mishap in January last year on Giglio Island hoping to find my missing brother. I was in agony all though. But in April, when I arrived in India, things changed a bit. I tried to contact various agencies ministry of external affairs, ministry of shipping, civil protection agency and so on - for help. They have all tried to give me assistance. They all assured me they would look into the matter. I know everybody wants to help me, but we are still helpless.

“The external affairs ministry had contacted the Indian embassy in Rome and requested ambassador Debabrata Saha to do what he could at the earliest. I am in contact with the civil protection agency, which has been looking for Russel since the very beginning. But they have called off the search now.

MiD DAY’s cover stories about the Rebello family’s tragedy

They are awaiting updates on the recovery of the ship, which experts say might take another 8-10 months, weather permitting,” Kevin said But tougher than gleaning help was telling his parents that he had no idea where Russel was. “The most challenging task for me was to try and make my parents understand that the situation was not simple out there in Giglio. To inform them that their son had gone missing, and that there was no one around to help...,” Kevin trailed off.

In his brother’s search
Looking for Russel, Kevin had his own run-in with perverse destiny. “On my return to Italy in July, I learnt that the automotive company for whom I worked as a brand-marketing researcher was taken over by a French company and I was among the 100-odd staffers laid off. I was jobless. Thankfully, my landlord understood my situation and was kind enough to allow me to stay on in the rented apartment, even though I was late in paying them dues. At present, I have set up my own wellness centre in Milan and work as a consultant.”

Kevin Rebello shows his brother Russel’s photo when the search operations were going on in Giglio. Pic/AFP

Kevin still pores over the videos of the sinking ship he has managed to source from various people, including friends of Russel’s on the ship. He is minutely going through them, hoping to find a clue that would lead him to Russel. Asked is they received any compensation after the disaster, Kevin said, “I am having a dialogue through my lawyers with the (ship) company officials. Under the maritime law, the company won’t officially declare any missing person dead unless a certain time period has elapsed.”

Moving on
Back home in Naigaon, Kevin’s parents intend to arrange a special prayer meeting by calling relatives and friends at their place, on the anniversary of the ship’s sinking on January 13. Russel’s father Frank, who is 71, underwent a hip surgery after he fell in the bathroom a few weeks ago. He is completely bedridden. His wife Gladys (65) is taking care of him, after their daughter-in-law, Russel’s wife Vilma (30), and their grandson Rhys (4) have shifted to Bangalore.

According to Vikram Pinto, Russel’s brother-in-law, “Life has to move on. My sister and nephew have moved to my parents’ place in Bangalore. She is searching for a job in an event management firm. Rhys has got admission in kindergarten. He is too small to understand anything, but he surely misses the motorcycle rides he used to take with his father. We are with Russel’s parents and we are continually in touch with Kevin.”

Mayoral homage
On January 11, Kevin will leave from Milan, where he currently lives, for Giglio to mark the first anniversary of the incident. "I will commemorate a mass dedicated to the victims. I'll spend a few days there, sitting in front of the semi-sunken ship," said Kevin. The Costa, still juts out uncompromisingly from the sea waters, a reminder to the islanders of the misery it wreaked.

Kevin said that Giglio mayor, Sergio Orteli, has requested him to carry an Indian flag. He has asked the Indian Consulate in Milan to help him out with the request. He will carry the flag to the island city for the ceremonial homage organised at the mayor’s office. The Indian flag will be hoisted in the congress room of the mayor, alongside those of other nations. The French, American, Canadian, German and Peruvian delegates will arrive at the island city on Wednesday, with their national flags, to mark the demise of the 32 people from 10 nationalities who lost their lives. 

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