GIGLIO ISLAND, Italy — The extraordinary righting of the Costa Concordia from its watery Tuscan graveyard has given Italy a boost of sorely needed pride, helping erase the shame many felt after an Italian captain took the cruise ship off course in an apparent stunt, crashed it and then abandoned ship before everyone was evacuated.
It didn’t seem to matter that the chief salvage master was from South Africa or that his 500-member crew hailed from 26 different nations. Italy, beset by two years of recession and political instability, had pulled off an unprecedented engineering feat as the world watched live on television.
“Well done!” retiree Aldo Mattera said Tuesday morning as he surveyed the Concordia, upright for the first time since the Jan. 13, 2012, shipwreck that killed 32 people near Giglio Island.
Premier Enrico Letta also weighed in, emphasizing the importance of restoring the nation’s civic pride. As he personally thanked Franco Gabrielli, the head of Italy’s civil protection agency, who oversaw the project, Letta said the operation had demonstrated what it means to take responsibility for something, no matter how risky.
“In this case, the public image of our country was one of fleeing responsibility,” Letta said, referring to the captain’s early evacuation and his refusal to reboard.
A few hours earlier, a fog horn had mourned off Giglio at 4 a.m. and Gabrielli declared that the Concordia had been successfully righted and had settled onto its new perch on a false seabed.
The development now allows for a renewed search for the two bodies that were never recovered and for the ship to eventually be towed away and broken up for scrap. Recovery crews will also go from cabin to cabin opening safes so they can to return the valuables that passengers left behind.
Nick Sloane, the chief salvage master, received a hero’s welcome when he came ashore.
“She was heavier than I expected,” Sloane told reporters after a few hours of sleep. “But you have to be patient.”
The ship’s captain, Francesco Schettino, whose trial resumes Monday, has insisted that he has been made a scapegoat, and that errors by others and his employer contributed to the disaster.
Sloane, who choked up at times during a Tuesday afternoon briefing, was asked what he would say to Schettino if he ever met him.
“I wouldn’t like to be in his shoes. For a captain, it’s the worst thing to happen to you,” Sloane said. “But I’m sorry for everyone who was there.”