This Article is From Feb 16, 2012

Italy cruise tragedy: A month later Indian still missing; family says he'll come back

Italy cruise tragedy: A month later Indian still missing; family says he'll come back
Mumbai: Three days back, in a local church on the small island of Giglio in Italy, congregated a crowd of people for a prayer service. Exactly a month ago, they had seen the Italian luxury cruise liner Costa Concordia hit a reef and capsize some distance from their land. They were gathered in the church to offer prayers for those who lost their lives or loved ones in the epic disaster. Among them was Kevin Rebello, brother of Russel -- the only Indian who went missing when the boat keeled over on the night of January 13.  

Speaking to Mid-Day from Gigilo, Mr Kevin said, "It is exactly a month since the disaster and we are still confident that Russel would return. It is official that 17 people died in the mishap and 15 crewmembers and passengers are still missing."

Search operations to trace Russel, a resident of Naigaon in Mumbai employed on the Concordia, continue till date.

Through the last month, Kevin has made Gigilo, an area close to where the ship remains partially submerged, his temporary home. He is waiting, praying for a miracle, in fact, optimistic that the news he is hoping for would soon bring cheer to his aggrieved family.

Strips of 2,000 hopes
"To mark the first month, the islanders organized a small prayer meet for those who died, those who went missing, and for the rescue operators involved in the search mission. After the service, the locals made
offerings of flowers in the ocean," Kevin said. "Even I prayed, and dropped a few strips in the ocean, hoping that Russel would read them and return to us."

The strips he speaks of are tiny bits of paper, printed with messages for Russel.

"Since the disaster, everyone has been leaving messages on his and my Facebook profiles. I copied and pasted them to a file. There were more than 2,000 messages, almost 40 pages: small remarks, get back soon messages, prayers, memories, notes, photos, fun moments, and so forth. I printed all these messages, cut them into strips, and tossed them into the sea less than 10 meters from the ship. I prayed that all our messages would reach him and he would read them and get back to us."

 Mr Kevin works in Milan and is concerned that if he does not report back to work, he would not be entitled for the reimbursement - he is paid only when he is present for work.

Asked if the Indian Embassy is providing any financial assistance, Mr Kevin clarified that all his expenses were being borne by the cruise liner company, Costa, for the time being.

Number of rescuers dwindles
Speaking of the rescue mission, "It is difficult to carry on with the rescue mission during extreme conditions. There was heavy snowfall recently, and the temperature dipped to 10 degrees Celsius below zero. But the hope lives on, and so the search operation continues. Although, the number of search operators has come down from 1,000 to 200 now" he said.

"At present, the special operation crew has started removing oil from the ship which would take at least 20 days. Tenders are being floated to get a salvage company to help straighten the sunken ship. Only then can the search operators look for any trapped missing people. But the entire tendering process would take time."

Other than Kevin, two other families from Italy and France are also in Gigilo, waiting to hear some news about their missing relatives.

"I am in touch with my parents in Mumbai. They have asked me not to leave the island and look for Russel. We are supporting each other with positive words and hope. They cannot do much back from India. For that matter, nor can I, other than pray," said Kevin.

Vikram Pinto, Russel's brother-in-law said, "We are hopeful that some miracle will happen soon and we will have our Russel back home."