Science, Tech & Environment

The Complicated Process of Salvaging the Cruise Ship Costa Concordia

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Credit: Photo: REUTERS/Tony Gentile

The capsized cruise liner Costa Concordia lies on its side next to Giglio Island September 16, 2013.

Engineers in Italy have begun the complicated process of lifting the cruise ship Costa Concordia from the spot where it ran aground in January 2012.

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(This story is based on a radio interview. Listen to the full interview.)

Anchor Marco Werman speaks with Ian Fraser, an entertainer who was onboard the Concordia the night of the accident.

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Marco Werman: I’m Marco Werman and this is The World, a co-production of the BBC World Service, PRI, and WGBH-Boston. For the past year and a half, the cruise ship Costa Concordia has sat on its side exactly where it ran aground in January 2012, right off the coast of Italy’s Giglio Island. Thirty-two people died in the ensuing chaos, and the ship’s captain is on trial for manslaughter. Today engineers finally began to lift the crippled ship off the rocky seabed. They’ll eventually right the vessel and tow it to the scrap heap. Ian Fraser survived the disaster by swimming to shore. He was an entertainer aboard the Concordia the night of the accident.

Ian Fraser: I wasn’t doing a show that night. I was off, I was free, and I was in my cabin, just watching TV, and it was a normal evening, nothing to worry about. But suddenly there was this tremendous lean as the ship turned sharply to starboard, to the right, which threw everything off the bed, everything off the shelves, and followed by a tremendous vibration and juddering, which in all the years I’ve been doing ships I’ve never felt or experienced before. So I knew something was seriously wrong. When you’re on board a ship there’s a constant hum of the engines that you get used to, a constant rumble in the background. That had gone, and that’s when you know, well, the engines have stopped so something has gone wrong. After that it was just a case of finding out what had happened and getting to our muster stations and starting the abandon ship.

Werman: Right, and how tough was that, for you to get off the boat?

Fraser: Funny, the impact didn’t really dawn on me until the point came where I had to get off the ship. It’s weird, you still think it’s going to be a normal day. We had rehearsals and a show the following day and while I’m standing on deck and the ship is slowly listing more and more, I’m still thinking, keep your voice nice and warm because you’ll be singing tomorrow night. It was only when an officer sort of shouted to us from the deck above, look, you need to get off, that I thought, crikey, we are actually leaving the ship. And on getting up onto deck four and looking through the ship, you could see the waves lapping onto deck four when really that should have been about 50 feet above sea water. That’s when it hit you, crikey, we are in real trouble now, we need to get off. That’s when your stomach turns, that’s when you think, right, we need to get off the ship.

Werman: And when you got off and started swimming to shore, were you trying to get other people to come with you or was it pretty much, I’m going to do this on my own because I don’t want to endanger anybody else?

Fraser: It came to the point where, where we were on the ship, we were surrounded by about 50 passengers and about half a dozen crew members, four of which were part of my show team. A passenger was standing by some gates which open up and he said, what do I do. And everyone in their various languages said jump. So it was a case of jumping and we just jumped one after the other and swam. Luckily we all had life jackets on and we swam to shore. It was an incredible moment, looking back at the ship looming over you, the funnel towering over you, to my left hand side. When I got to the shore and turned round, the point of the deck that we had all jumped from was under water. That had gone, it was that quick when it actually happened.

Werman: Now that the ship’s being raised, what are your thoughts when you see the footage of the Costa Concordia being pulled up right now?

Fraser: It’s so sad to see it that way. And when you see the ship being raised and the discoloration on the hull there, you just think, this poor ship. And as I say, I put what happened to the passengers to one side. That really does go without saying, of course. But you look at the ship and the physical damage to that beautiful vessel, and you think, what a shame. What a waste, completely pointless, completely needless, lives ruined, a beautiful ship is now going to be destroyed and broken up, and all for nothing. Tragedy, it really is. The more you think about it the more angry you get, really.

Werman: Ian, how were you affected afterwards by the tragedy? Have you been back on a ship?

Fraser: No, I haven’t, and it wasn’t through choice. It’s just the way that my life has taken that direction. I would go back, but it’s been a tough day today, it has. It surprised me how emotional I got looking at the pictures and talking about it to people. It’s strange, it’s quite raw, still raw, and that surprised me, I must be honest.

Werman: Ian, are you thinking twice about working again on ships?

Fraser: Well, I don’t want it to define me. I don’t want that to spoil a huge part of my life. Ship life is phenomenal. I mean, travelling around the world and getting paid to do it? You’re kidding. It’s an unbelievable life. Is the last thing I ever do on a ship jumping off and swimming? Is that going to be my memory from 20 years of ships? so I’ll, if you’ll excuse me, I’ll be damned if that’s going to happen. I’m not going to let that define me. So I want to go back, I want to get back on board, but to answer your question, who knows. That first night when I’m in a cabin and the door shuts, I’d like to think I’ll be okay, but I think it’s going to take a short while to be comfortable on board a ship again.

Werman: Ian Fraser, a singer and performer on board ships. He was on board the Costa Concordia the night it ran aground. Ian, thanks very much for speaking with us and recalling some of these memories of that terrible night. Appreciate it.

Fraser: You’re very welcome, Marco. No problem.

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