The Rebello family survives on unsinkable hope

Updated: 24 January, 2014 12:54 IST | Vinod Kumar Menon |

It has been two years since the Costa Concordia cruise ship sank but the remains of Russel Rebello, who worked as a waiter aboard the ship, are yet to be found

On January 13, 2014, it will be two years since the sinking of Costa Concordia cruise ship (see box). For the Rebello family, tragedy has been compounded by the fact that they cannot hold a mass for Russel Rebello, who has been missing since the incident. Russel, who worked as a waiter aboard the cruise ship, cannot be officially declared dead as his remains are yet to be found.

Members of the US salvage company Titan and Italian firm Micoperi inspect the wreck of Italy's Costa Concordia cruise ship after it was lifted to the surface, on September 18. (below) Russel Rebello. AFP Photo

Kevin, Russel’s elder brother, is in Mumbai and spoke to SUNDAY MiDDAY exclusively. “It’s been more than 730 days since the incident took place. Every day, we find it difficult to accept that my younger brother is yet to be found. The search has been temporarily suspended as the ship will be raised and taken to a dry port for investigations. The search will resume to find the last person who is still missing, hopefully.” He added that the ship was uprighted in September 2013 -- also known as parbuckling -- and investigations had resumed, thanks to the Italian authorities. More than 50 experienced divers were flown in to begin the search.

“A week later, bone fragments were found, although they were discarded as animal bones. They finally found a body and declared it as Russels’, based on the grey shoes that the body was wearing,” remembers Kevin. “The body was badly decomposed, so only a DNA test and an autopsy could reveal the true identity of the body.

This was good news for our family. We were ready to bring Russel and I began to plan the funeral. But one morning, I received a call from the Civil Protection agency of Italy, the highest civil authority in Italy, to inform me that the body was not Russels’ but that of Maria GT, another person who was also missing. When the body was found initially and everyone thought it was Russell, Maria’s husband, Elio V, called me up and said that he was happy for me as our ordeal has finally come to an end. He also said that he will have to stay strong. I felt sorry for him as we had gone through a lot since the whole incident and became closer. His daughter, who was on the cruise ship that night, survived, as her mother gave her a place on the lifeboat and did not make it herself.”

“But after the result of the DNA test, the situation changed,” continued Kevin. “I was angry again as this was the third time that the authorities and the media made a mistake in identifying the body. I went for the funeral in Sicily, Italy. I placed a flower and picture of Russel on Maria Grazie’s coffin. They sealed the grave and Russel was laid to rest with her.”

“Today, when I look at the ocean, I consider it as Russels’ tomb. This will never end for me. The day the Concordia will be completely dismantled and broken down, I might surrender. I have not lost hope yet,” said an emotional Kevin. “This year, I am in Mumbai and we will remember Russel in our prayers. An evening prayer in memory of our Russel and the 31 people who lost their lives that night will reunite us at our family home in Naigaon West, Vasai on January 13. Candles will be lit at that hour all over the world,” he added.

Meanwhile, in Italy, a commemorative second anniversary mass will be organised by the local bishop and the Mayor has declared a day of prayer to remember the lost lives. A musical concert will be organised and at 9:45:07, a candle light march will be organised. A one-minute silence will also be observed and then, ships and boats at the port will pay their respect to the lost lives by blaring their horns. “I was invited to participate in the event, but I preferred to stay at home with my family,” said Kevin. “I will leave for Milan on January 25, once again hoping to hear some news of Russel.”

When tragedy struck
On January 13, 2012, at 21.45 local time, Costa Concordia hit a rock off Isola del Giglio. A 50-metre long gash bore through the hull. Taking on water, while being pushed by winds laterally, the ship drifted back and was grounded near the shore. It then partly capsized onto her starboard side, in an unsteady position on a rocky underwater ledge. Almost half of the ship remained above water, but it was in danger of sinking completely into a trough that was 70 metres deep. The cruise liner was carrying 3,229 passengers and 1,023 crewmembers -- all but 34 were rescued. Thirty two bodies were found, and two people are missing. Authorities say there may have been other people who were not listed on board. The search for bodies was abandoned at the end of January 2012.

14,500 tonne

The weight of the vessel

The number of people who died when the ship ran aground in January 2012

The number of passengers aboard the ship

The number of men working on the salvage operations

19 hours
The amount of time taken to make the ship upright

$800 million
The amount it took to turn the ship upright this month — the most expensive maritime salvage operation ever 

First Published: 12 January, 2014 14:19 IST

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