Sirens sound for Italy cruise ship crash anniversary

Boats sounded their horns off the Italian island of Giglio on Sunday in memory of the exact moment a year ago when the Costa Concordia cruise ship crashed in a tragedy that claimed 32 lives.

The poignant remembrance of the impact came after a candle-lit procession through the tiny port to the sound of ringing church bells.

It was the emotional climax of a day of commemorations on Giglio that brought together grieving relatives, traumatised survivors and residents who rushed to help on that dramatic night.

Families of the victims earlier cast flowers into the sea by the giant wreck, which still lies keeled over on its side as salvage workers attempt to right it, refloat it and tow it away.

A crane on a tug boat also lowered into the sea a piece of the rock that the Costa Concordia crashed into in a symbolic gesture of hope for a return to normality for this island community.

Twice the size of the Titanic, the Costa Concordia hurtled into rocks just off Giglio with 4,229 people from 70 countries on board on January 13, 2012.

Overcome with grief, Susy Albertini, the mother of five-year-old Dayana, who perished in the tragedy with her father, said simply: "I want justice for my family and for all the victims."

Survivors who came for the ceremony re-lived the panic of that night, when hundreds were forced to jump into the freezing sea, clamber down a rope ladder in the dark or be evacuated by helicopter after several lifeboats failed to deploy.

"We came because we wanted to express our gratitude. We survived," said Ronald Dots, who was with his wife and son when the tragedy struck.

"It was a painful night and at first we cried a lot. Even now, when I see the sea I shake," he said.

French passenger Daniele Dubuc broke down in tears upon stepping off a ferry -- the first time she had been back on a ship since that night.

Dubuc said she and her husband loved ballroom dancing and had enjoyed dances on the cruise, but that "the tragedy has made us lose the will to dance."

Many said they had come mainly to thank local inhabitants who came to pluck shivering survivors from the water and bring them food and blankets.

-- Still searching one year on --

Ten people are being investigated including captain Francesco Schettino, who is accused of reckless seamanship and abandoning the ship, and three executives from owner Costa Crociere, but a trial is still months away.

"From last January 13 and for the rest of my life I will always have something in my heart that will tie me to that event and to the families of the victims," Schettino said in a television interview from his home in southern Italy, where he has been confined pending the conclusion of the investigation.

Dubbed "Captain Coward" by the tabloids, Schettino laid the blame for the tragedy on a helmsman who misunderstood his orders and fellow crew members who failed to spot the island.

Costa Crociere, Europe's biggest cruise operator, had asked passengers in a letter to stay away from the ceremony on the island because of a lack of space, infuriating many of the survivors.

The company marked the day by holding masses in the chapels of all its vessels around the world, as well as arranging small religious services in China, India, Indonesia, Peru and the Philippines, where many crew members came from.

At a mass in the same church that served as a temporary refuge for many survivors, objects from the ship were put on display -- a life jacket, a rope, some bread and a statue of the Virgin Mary.

Twelve of the victims on the luxury liner were from Germany, seven from Italy, six from France, two from Peru, two from the United States, one from Hungary, one from India and one from Spain.

Two bodies have never been found -- an Indian waiter and an Italian passenger.

Elio Vincenzi, whose wife is still missing, could hardly speak for tears as he presented the island with a statue of the Virgin Mary.

Kevin Rebello, who is still searching for his brother, gave the island a plaque with four lions on it, the emblem of India -- which he said stood for power, courage, pride and confidence, characteristics "also shared by Giglio."

Salvage workers said an unprecedented $400-million (300-million-euro) operation to remove the ship for scrapping will be over by September.

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