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Wreck still looms over Concordia anniversary

Claudio Lavanga / NBC News

A wreath is lowered into the water near the shipwrecked Costa Concordia in honor of the 32 lives lost when the ship crashed two years ago, killing 32.

GIGLIO ISLAND, Italy – Two years after the Costa Concordia famously capsized off the Italian island of Giglio, authorities and locals remembered the 32 passengers who lost their lives in a somber commemoration ceremony. 

In the morning, a mass in memory of the 32 people who died in the shipwreck was held at the church in the port where hundreds of stranded cold and wet passengers found refuge on the night of January 13, 2011.

Later, the island’s mayor, Sergio Ortelli, laid a wreath in the sea, next to the Concordia's water-logged carcass, in memory of the victims.

“We never really got used to seeing it here,” he told NBC News. “It used to be a beautiful ship, but now it’s only a bundle of rusty scrap iron. It will be a relief to see it go away, we can now go back to be the island we were, famous not for the Concordia, but for our beautiful nature and sea.”

This is likely to be the final anniversary of the tragedy to be commemorated with the massive wreck in plain sight: the Concordia is expected to be towed away in June, the final phase of the biggest and most expensive salvage operation in history.

After the 1,000-foot-long cruise liner was pulled upright in a spectacular feat of engineering last September, the Concordia has shown the two faces of the worst tragedy in the modern passenger ship industry. The immaculate port side, untouched as it remained above water, is a reminder of how beautiful the Concordia looked before the capsizing. While the re-emerged starboard side, which has been lying on a underwater cliff for a year and a half, looks like a rusty ghost ship that carried death and destruction. 

Last week, the Italian civil protection agency announced the salvage operation is now in its final phase. During the next few months, a total of 30 giant tanks will be affixed to both sides of the Concordia to float it off the false seabed where it is resting, so it can be towed to a port to be dismantled for scrap.

Max Rossi / Reuters

A man fishes in front of the cruise liner Costa Concordia during the "parbuckling" operation outside Giglio harbor on Sunday. Thirty massive tanks filled with air will lift the hulk of the Costa Concordia off the seabed in June so it can be towed away from the Italian island of Giglio where it capsized two years ago, officials said on Friday

Where it will be towed to on its final journey is still unclear. Twelve ports have been shortlisted so far to dismantle it for scrap. Only four of them are in Italy, while ports in France, Turkey, Britain and China are also bidding for the job. The choice of the port, which will be selected by March, is not only down to mere economics. It will also have to be big enough to receive the 1,000 foot long wreck, and its harbors must also be deep enough to fit the ship’s hull, which will be more than 60 feet underwater.

In the meantime the trial in the deadly shipwreck continues in Grosseto, a nearby town in mainland Tuscany. Capt. Francesco Schettino, who is accused of having sailed too close to the island in a daredevil stunt to impress a former captain who lived on the island and a Moldovan dancer who was with him on deck at the time of the crash, is charged with manslaughter, causing a shipwreck and abandoning the ship before all the passengers had been evacuated.

A hearing scheduled Monday morning was postponed due to an unrelated lawyers strike, but around 50 survivors nevertheless observed a minute's silence in the courtroom.

Marco Secchi / Getty Images

The Costa Concordia, carrying more than 4,200 passengers, ran aground Jan. 13, 2012 off the coast of Italy killing 32 people.

Adriano Procopio used to work on the Concordia and said he hasn’t recovered since the accident. ”I am here to honor my five colleagues who lost their lives. I got injured trying to save all those people, and I haven’t been able to find a job since then.”

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