Russel still at sea, family knocks on church door

Jan 18, 2012, 08:24 IST | Vinod Kumar Menon

"I am hopeful that I will get some news about my brother Russel soon, but I have no access to information from anywhere," said Kevin Rebello, speaking to MiD DAY from Porto Santo Stefano, Italy

"I am hopeful that I will get some news about my brother Russel soon, but I have no access to information from anywhere," said Kevin Rebello, speaking to MiD DAY from Porto Santo Stefano, Italy.

The ordeal hasn't ended for the family of Russel Rebello, the 33-year-old cook from Bandra who is the only Indian missing since Costa Concordia tipped over near the Italian coast. Ever since, his parents and wife have been trying to find out about his whereabouts, but they keep coming up against a wall. Desperate, they have even asked the local Bishop to speak with the Pope's office.

In happier times: Russel with his parents and wife Wilma on his
wedding day. Russel's parents still hope that their son is safe and have
asked the Pope's office to help look for him

"The entire area has been sealed and I have no access to reach the point where the search operation is going on at the moment. Every thing is discreet, there is no direct communication -- it is either government-to-government or with the owner of the cruise. All I can say is that the situation at ground level is worse than what is being shown," Kevin said.

"Those rescued are unable to speak to their family members in India. Most of them have lost their personal contacts and are clueless. Also, their travel documents and permits have to be remade temporarily. I am in touch with the Indian Embassy, which has promised to inform me the moment they get any official word on Russel," he said.

Kevin has to bear his travelling, lodging and sundry other expenses himself; the government has offered him no help, not even with arrangements.  

Meanwhile, back at his Naigaon residence, Russel's parents have managed to get a set top box and are glued before news channels to get the latest updates about their Russell.

"An official from the recruiting agency M/s Air Borne visited the family members last evening and informed them that Russell was placed in the missing category," said Michael D'costa, the Rebellos' neighbour.

He added, "The family has even visited the local bishop's office, seeking the Church's intervention. They have asked him to speak to the Pope's office in Rome to help look for Russel."

Senior political leaders and battery of media channels visited the family on Tuesday.

Bedlam on boat
Nikhil Mulati, a close friend of Russel's, who was on board the cruise when the tragedy struck, told MiD DAY from Naples in Italy, "Soon after the accident, I rushed to the lower deck and spotted Russel at the crew area on deck 3. He told me that the ship was badly damaged and water had gushed into his cabin. He had been on a sick leave for two days, and looked unwell. I helped him with warm clothes and shoes, and then he left for the upper deck."

Nikhil's wife Teresa, an Italian national, worked on the same liner. He parted with Russel to look for her. "It was after that, as complete chaos overtook the ship, that Russell went missing," said Nikhil

Nikhil rubbished media reports saying that the cruise did not have sufficient life jackets or lifeboats. "There were 26 lifeboats � each can accommodate 150 people � and 69 life craft, which were more than sufficient for the passengers and crews."

Most of the ship's crewmembers were first-timers, and they were completely shaken-up. But not Nikhil, not even when it came to the mishap.

A couple of years ago, he was on another Costa Cruise liner, also caught in a rough sea. Finding it difficult to dock at the Port of Egypt, the boat met with an accident. Luckily, no one was injured.

"I am not scared of death or the rough seas any more. I will continue to work in a cruise, and am prepared for the worst. But it may not be the same with first-timers, who may need some counselling back home."

A resident of Vasai, Nikhil got married to Teresa and is now settled in Italy. "Soon after the evacuation of crew and passengers, the authorities allowed Italian nationals to leave the port, so I could accompany Teresa. All others are still getting their temporary documents and permits prepared."
Like many others, Nikhil is also praying for Russel's safe return.

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