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Italian ship tragedy involves foreign workers

Half of ill-fated ship's crew returns to Asia

Philippine crew members rescued from the Costa Concordia Philippine crew members rescued from the Costa Concordia
  • by Alessandro Speciale, Rome
  • Italy
  • January 29, 2012
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Maricris Millares had been working for Costa cruises for eight years when, on the night of January 13, the Costa Concordia ran aground and capsized just off the coast of the Isola del Giglio.

A 30-year old Filipina cabin stewardess, Millares was one of a crew of one thousand on board (together with 3,200 passengers). Almost half were from Indonesia (170) and the Philippines (296).

Their ordeal was compounded by the fact that many of them had to spend several days being put up in a hotel at Rome airport. Millares says she was several days without documents, money, clothes or even shoes, before priests from the Sant'Egidio Community arrived to help her.

Without passports or money, they “could not leave the hotel they were booked in,” the ambassador of the Philippines to the Holy See, Mercedes Tuason, pointed out.

Cruise ship workers regularly consign their documents to ship officials. According to Millares, “they are kept by the crew purser who is in charge of our needs.”

In a statement on January 15, the owners of the Costa Concordia said it was clear “that the crew of the Costa Concordia acted bravely and swiftly to help evacuate more than 4,000 individuals during a very challenging situation. We are very grateful for all they have done.”

However, they had left the ship with “nothing else beyond their clothes,” said Father Paolo Cristiano, a Rome-based priest who oversees the Sant'Egidio Community's work in the Philippines.

Fr Cristiano said the Filipino and Indonesian workers are among the “angels” who saved many of the passengers on board. While the captain, Francesco Schettino, allegedly left the ship and refused to board it again, most of them stayed until the last moment.

Millares says a man gave her and her boyfriend Michael his two children as he went back inside to look for his wife. “We were the last to leave. Our lifeboat carried only about 30 people”, against a capacity of 150. The man, his wife and the children eventually reunited on shore.

Stuck in the airport hotels without passports or visas, the crew were unable to go to church so a group of Filipino priests celebrated mass at the the airport's Church of Our of Lady of Loreto, bringing them rosaries and scapulars.

Fr Cristiano arranged for three truckloads of jackets and shoes to be sent to the hotels where the workers were lodged at Rome's Fiumicino airport.

"The company has stated its commitment to give compensation to the crew. The repatriation is expected to be done soon after the negotiations between the crew and the company are completed," a spokesman of the Indonesian embassy in Rome, Musrifun Lajawa, told Indonesia's official news agency Antara on January 16.

The last of the Indonesian crew members arrived back in Bali on January 21. Likewise, all but one of the Filipino workers are now back in Manila, one injured man remaining in an Italian hospital.

Millares said: “I feel blessed for not experiencing extreme problems.”
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