Note to Blog Readers:
For the past four days I have been on the Island of Giglio covering the aftermath of the devastating shipwreck of the Costa Concordia Cruise Liner for Associated Press Television News. As of today (Monday, January 23, 2012) there are 13 dead and 19 missing. Today I want to tell the story of one person I met there whose courage and strength are inspiring.
Kevin Rebello is an energetic, wiry young man who is on a mission to find his brother. He says it is a puzzle that he has put together with one piece missing. The puzzle is what happened to his 33-year-old brother Russel on the night of the shipwreck. Russel, who has a wife and a three-year-old son back in Mumbai, worked as a waiter on the Costa Concordia and is among the 19 people missing.
I met Kevin at the restaurant/bar of the Hotel La Lucciola in Porto Santo Stefano, an hour’s ferry ride away from Giglio Island. Kevin had his computer with him and he was reading messages and collecting information. From the first days he decided he wasn’t going to wait for search and rescue teams to try to figure out where his brother was, he would do that part for them. He opened up a facebook page (KevinRebelloRussel) and called on all crew members and passengers to try and remember when they saw Russel. This is what Kevin explained to me:
“So it is like a puzzle you know. I mixed up all the pieces that were given to me by his friends who were there on board that night who gave me their information, where he was, what he was doing, what he was wearing, where he was supposed to be and what he did after that. Until his last step, I know everything that has happened to him.”
Everyday Kevin and other relatives of the missing passengers go over to Giglio Island for a meeting with the search and rescue teams. Kevin said the first time he met with them, he spent an hour briefing them on the exact places on the ship where they should be looking for his brother. He said they were grateful for the extra information because the ship is huge and divers are having great difficulty underwater because of the dark.
As one diver explained to me they were going deep into the ship attached to a rope so they could find their way out: “You could see only a half-meter from your nose, so exploring is very limited…. it was a very dangerous situation because there were glass lamps on their sides, lamps that had been on the ceiling, and there were glass doors overhead and the ship was filled with upside down furniture, so it was really dangerous.” An additional danger was the movement of the ship. While I was there, firefighters slid down on ropes from helicopters to attach special antennas to the ship to measure how much it was moving. The ship is perched precariously on a ledge and risks sliding off. Divers told me it would probably be easier to explore the entire ship if it were at the bottom.
Through his research, Kevin has also learned that his brother was a hero. “I was told by one of his friends that he had a life jacket for some time and he gave it to another passenger because she was left without one, she couldn’t find one,” he said.
Kevin then asked me why the Captain of the ship, who ran the ship up against a rock, then hopped into a lifeboat and left the capsized liner while dozens of people were still on board, is now at home under house arrest. Captain Francesco Schettino is now facing charges of manslaughter, causing a shipwreck and abandoning his ship. Kevin noted that his brother, a hero, has not been found, and the Captain, a coward, is comfortable at home.
A few days ago Kevin and other relatives were taken out to the shipwreck. Search and rescue teams paused for a moment as the relatives threw flowers in the water. It was a moving moment. Kevin is now collecting messages from facebook that he intends to print out, cut into little strips and drop them in the water near the boat. One of the messages is from Russel’s three-year-old son Rhys, it says: “Daddy, please come back. I love you, Rhys.”
Post in: Italiano