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Better days. Photo Cyril F

At 4am this morning (September 17), a team of workmen finally managed to get the Costa Concordia cruise ship upright and ready to be moved without risk of environmental spillage.

Almost 20 months after the ship first hit rocks off Giglio Island, the locals are finally seeing an end to the saga.

And what a saga! Thirty-two people died in the accident – maybe more if the stories about uncounted and unseen clandestine passengers are true.

The cruise ship’s Captain Schettino is accused of stealing a lifeboat and hiding at his mistress’s house after the accident. He’s currently being tried in Grosseto’s courts.

Millions of euros have been spent compensating victims and cleaning up the mess and millions more will be spent before the ship is finally removed this spring.

The damage now that's it upright. Photo EEF
The damage now that’s it upright. Photo EEF

I’ve written about the Costa Concordia before, but today’s news has put me in a reflective mood. Hundreds of journalists from around the world have flocked to Giglio Island to cover the story.

After today, they’ll interview a local or two, chat to the men behind the operation and head back home. The reality of the Costa Concordia crash lost on them.

I don’t live on Giglio Island, but I visited it this July and was surprised to find tourism had increased. A friend of mine is a Giglio resident and she said it’s currently, but unofficially the most visited island in the world.

Why she may have been exaggerating, I can tell you every person on my ferry rushed to snap shots of the sunken ship as we sailed past. They literally elbowed their fellow passengers out of the way to get a good shot.

My sister's shots
One of my sister’s shots 

You can take the high road and be disgusted. I admit I did. People died on that boat. It might be romantic to call it a modern day Titanic. I hear they’re considering making a movie… I’ll be looking out for James Cameron… but people died.

There’s talk Giglio has benefited from having “one of the biggest cruise ship accidents ever” on its shores.

I’ve been to the island a bunch of times and it’s usually frequented with day tripping Italians. After all, ask yourself, had you heard of Giglio Island before the accident?

This time around I was surrounded by Americans. The ferry was more expensive thanks to an added tourism tax introduced at the start of the year. Coincidence? Maybe. The restaurants on Giglio Porto were brimming. And the Tripadvisor reviews listed “views of the sunken ship” from dining terraces as an added bonus.

The lovely elderly lady who ran my B&B said she’d seen a huge rise in bookings since the accident. While summer on the island is always busy, this year she said it was insane. I had trouble finding a hotel two weeks out from my trip in the middle of the week!

And her close up
And from afar

It broke my heart to watch people standing on the shore taking pictures of the boat. It was even sadder to hear them ask the tourist information centre if they could snorkel the wreckage. And I won’t even mention the terrible the Captain Schettino gag t-shirts.

My local parish priest, Don Lido, recently moved to Giglio Island to take over the reins. In Giglio Porto’s church is a heartbreaking memorial to the people who died. Their photos and name line the wall and locals and tourists have left them trinkets and stirring words of prayer.

Giglio Island is a small community with little more than 1,000 residents in the peak summer season. The town council, its residents and emergency services were awarded a medaglia d’oro al merito civile for their hard work, generosity and solidarity during the hours, days and weeks after the accident.

They gave their whole heart and so much more to the victims of the accident. I’d like they don’t want the wreckage to become a tourist attraction.

I know my friend Paola is eager to see it all end. Like most locals, she has an incredible affinity to the environment. The wreckage is sitting on a protected reef. No one is happy about how much damage it has caused.

But what can I say? We all love a good disaster.

I hear Livorno and Tuscany are bickering over which region’s port gets the wreckage. The financial incentive is supposed to be huge, not to mention the tourism from curious looky-loos

I hear it’s high enough to tempt Tuscany to build a new port just for the purpose…

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