Heroes Born Out of Tragedy | The Costa Concordia

Before that fateful night three years ago, the Costa Concordia was a name known probably only to those living in Europe and maybe a handful of people in the United States.  But at 9:45 pm on January 13, 2012, that all changed.

With over 4,000 passengers and crew members onboard, after the ship struck a rock near Giglio, a small island on the western coast of Italy, life changed for everyone.  The captain of the ship, Francesco Schettino, didn’t issue an abandon ship order until one hour after the initial impact.  The evacuation of the ship took over six hours and unfortunately, 32 people died as a result.  As for Schettino, he was recently sentenced to a mere 16 years in prison for manslaughter, causing the accident, and abandoning his passengers.

Until now, that was the abbreviated and isolated version of the story I knew.  That is until I watched, “ESCAPE: The Costa Concordia” from Dateline (NBC News).  You can watch the entire episode (1 hour, 25 minutes) on the NBC website here, but only in the United States (sorry!).

Why should you watch the episode?  Because the Costa Concordia accident isn’t only about a ship. The bigger story is about the people, the survivors and what they experienced and how they persevered in the most dire of circumstances.

Emily Lau and Benji Smith (photo CBSBoston (boston.cbslocal.com)
Emily Lau and Benji Smith (photo CBSBoston (boston.cbslocal.com)

I learned that Emily Lau and Benji Smith, a loveable couple who also live in Boston, were on their honeymoon on the ship.  When they thought it couldn’t get any worse, it did and did so repeatedly, but their calm thinking and their strong desire to not only live, but to stay together is what helped them and also Emily’s relatives who were also with them on their honeymoon.  When they arrived onshore on Giglio, they went to a small hotel with others from the ship.  After getting settled, Emily heard a woman on a cell phone talking to someone (media?) about the incident saying that Costa Cruises was there and they were taking care of them and that everything was fine.  Emily pretty much lost it, grabbed the phone from the woman, and told the truth — everything was far from ok.  If you remember watching the news during the first day, you probably heard Emily’s voice and her story.  After the courage it took to get off the ship, this was a whole new kind of courage she demonstrated that allowed her to stand up and not let the true story get buried by the cruise line.

Emily is a composer, singer, and storyteller and you can lean more about her and her music on her website at  www.emily-lau.com.  You can also contact her on FaceBookTwitter, and Instagram.  Why would you want to?  Because it’s not the experience that changed her life, but how she reacted to the experience that makes her who she is today.  She is truly a hero!  Not to be forgotten is her husband, Benji Smith, who wrote a book called, “Abandoned Ship: An Intimate Account of the Costa Concordia Shipwreck.”

Rose Metcalf (Photo from Today.com)
Rose Metcalf (Photo from Today.com)

Another example of strength during this accident is Rose Metcalf, a young British dancer who had recently finished university and was what she had thought would be a dream job.  On that night,  Rose showed what she was made of on more than one occasion.  Like when she stood up to her superior who commanded her to return to her cabin and change into her performance outfit to “entertain” the passengers in the lounge.  It was Rose who kept her cool and guided crew members and kept people calm.  It was Rose who refused to go inside the ship, going with her gut and instincts to stay alive.  It was Rose who repaired a flashlight, MacGyver-style, to get the attention of the lifeboats and helicopter. It was Rose who refused to board the helicopter alone and forced her rescuer to go back and save four crew members before they could leave.  Before being rescued, it was Rose who kept her wits about her and borrowed one of the crew members phones to try and call home.  When she couldn’t, she posted a status update on FaceBook:  “My name is Rose, its Friday 13th and I’m one of the last survivors still on board the sinking cruise liner off the coast of Italy. Pray for us to be rescued.”  I can’t imagine how hard it was to do that and I probably wouldn’t have been able to post anything, no less something humorous.

Rose is now married and living in the United States and although difficult, she is still finding a way to do what she loves, which is to dance.  You can visit her website or contact her on FaceBook or Twitter. Rose is definitely an amazing woman and an all around hero.

On that night in January three years ago, heroes were born.  At a time where people celebrate reality TV stars. athletes, and pop stars, isn’t it time that we acknowledge and pay tribute to the real heroes?


TSG Footnotes (or things that have me thinking):

  1. Why did Dateline or NBC News neglect to mention that Costa Cruises (Costa Crociere) is owned under the control of Carnival Corporation since 2000? Carnival Corporation as in Carnival Cruise Line in the United States and around the world as they operate multiple brands including Costa Cruises.  This should have at least been mentioned especially as it is the largest cruise line in the world.
  2. While Cruise Lines International Association (CLIA) created a Global Cruise Industry Operational Safety Review to take a closer look at the safety practices of the cruise industry, have the policies recommended been instituted fully with all participating cruise lines? If not, have their been fines or repercussions?
  3. The president of CLIA at the time the Global Cruise Industry Operational Safety Review was implemented was Christine Duffy.  Where is she now? As of February 1st, she became the president of Carnival Cruise Line.
  4. It’s a ship, not a boat.  Remember a ship can carry a boat, but not the other way around.

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