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Italian island readies for Concordia disaster anniversary

GIGLIO ISLAND, Italy: An Italian island prepared yesterday to mark the first anniversary of the Costa Concordia cruise disaster, as officials promised the 290-meter (951-foot) wreck will be removed by September.
Survivors and victims’ relatives began to arrive on Giglio for a commemoration today for the 32 passengers and crew who perished that night on a ship twice the size of the Titanic.
“It’s not easy to return,” said Kevin Rebello, whose brother was a waiter on the Costa Concordia and is still officially reported as missing.
“I was looking at the ship when I was coming in on the ferry. It brought back memories of those days.... I have still not found peace,” he said.
The liner crashed into a group of rocks just off Giglio, veered sharply and keeled over just as many passengers were sitting down for supper on the first night of a Mediterranean cruise.
Salvage workers have been laboring around the clock for months to stabilize the wreck and eventually refloat it and tow it away in an operation that has never been attempted before.
The removal has been hit by delays but the head of Italy’s civil protection agency, Franco Gabrielli, said it would happen by September at the latest.
“The program envisages the definitive removal by September,” Gabrielli told reporters on the island, underlining that the operation was “exceptional”.
Franco Porcellacchia, an executive from ship owner Costa Crociere who is overseeing the project, said the budget had increased from $300 million to $400 million and could rise further.
Nick Sloane, a representative of US salvage giant Titan said the actual refloating of the ship could happen by July.
“The most difficult part lies ahead. Refloating the boat should only take six hours, but the weight of the shifting water inside the ship as we right it must be extremely carefully controlled,” he said.
Meanwhile marquees to host the more than 100 survivors expected at the ceremony have sprung up along the Tuscan island’s port, just a few hundred yards from where the ship capsized with 4,229 people from 70 countries on board.
Mayor Sergio Ortelli said islanders were keen to welcome back those who lived through that night, even though Costa Crociere asked survivors to stay away from the commemoration because of logistics.
Many of them had sought shelter in local homes and a church in the port after being pulled shivering from the freezing sea after a panicky evacuation.
“The idea is to exorcise a horrible episode, and to share the pain and drama of those who lost a loved one,” Ortelli said.
“Many survivors and relatives of victims have returned to thank us, and share their memories with us. Some, a year on, still send us emails,” he said.
The commemorations today will include replacing where it once stood the rock that the ship crashed into and tore away. There will then be a mass.