Why the Tuscan Island of Giglio Misses Its Disaster
A year after the wreck the Costa Concordia left its waters, the picture-perfect Italian island is struggling to stay afloat economically.
GIGLIO, Italy — If you would have asked anyone on this Tuscan island last July what life would be like without the Costa Concordia shipwreck one year on, you likely would have heard it would be better without the hulking cruise ship slumped on its shores.
Instead, the residents of this picture-perfect paradise now kind of miss the massive wreck.
“We aren’t the same without the ship, both economically and even as a community,” Rosalba Pellegrini, owner of the Bar Fausto in Giglio’s port, told The Daily Beast a few weeks shy of the anniversary of the removal of the ship. “It’s hard to know whether it is the economic crisis in general or the harm to our reputation that is still keeping tourists away, but business is not at all what it was before the ship and a mere fraction of what it was during the salvage operation.”
The Carnival Cruise company-owned Costa Concordia famously crashed on the picturesque island in January 2012, when its commander, Captain Francesco Schettino, skimmed its rocky shores in an apparent attempt to impress his female companion for the cruise. No one died on impact, but 32 passengers and crew lost their lives during the botched evacuation. The last body was only recovered this winter after the ship was towed to Genoa to be salvaged. One salvage diver also died during the perilous attempt to first right and then tow the ship away.
More than 500 men and women from 29 nations worked around the clock to get the ship off Giglio in what was a billion-dollar operation that created a cottage industry for businesses in Giglio’s port that fed and housed the workers for almost two years. Before the disaster, Giglio was primarily a summer destination that lured sun-seekers and birdwatchers, with about 1,000 full-time residents. But the Concordia salvage crews kept the hotels and restaurants open year-round, which also created a false economy. They also briefly made the island one of the most culturally diverse places in all of Europe. The crews completely integrated with the local community: Couples were formed, babies were born, and the entire island transformed to accommodate the workers.
Then they were gone with the ship. “Survival is going to be extremely difficult,” says Paolo Fanciulli, owner of the Bahamas Hotel in the port. “I would predict that many of these businesses won’t be here in five years.”
There are still more than 100 salvage crewmembers working on the site to try to return it to its previous condition. Unlike at the height of the original operation on the island, the new cleanup crews aren’t eating in Giglio’s restaurants or renting out the cottages and hotel rooms. Instead, they live on a floating dormitory and eat at its offshore canteen. They are removing thousands of grout bags that weighted down massive platforms that held the ship in place. Those platforms will eventually be lifted from the seabed—despite pleas by local dive shops to leave them to form an artificial reef, which would have lured divers from all over the world to the site. But even those hopes for a long-term economic holdover were dashed after the island held a referendum and chose to get rid of every trace of the wreck. “All we have left is a bitter taste,” says Fanciulli. “Costa didn’t leave us anything but a massive scar.”
Giglio’s shipwreck was certainly a unique example of cashing in on a disaster, but it is hardly the only instance in which local residents feel a little lost now that the worst is over. Even in cases of natural disasters like Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans, the years after the recovery are sometimes just as painful. In the case of New Orleans, the city will stay scarred by both the actual event and the outpouring of attention in the immediate aftermath despite successful efforts for recovery.
And in cases that garnered massive worldwide media attention, like the Costa Concordia, the residents feel somewhat abandoned when the news crews leave town. “We are on the road to recovery,” says Giglio Mayor Sergio Ortelli. “But we’re not yet sure where that road leads.”