BOSTON (CBS) – One year after a tragedy at sea, survivors of the Costa Concordia shipwreck and relatives of the 32 people who died gathered Sunday in Giglio, Italy.
They watched as a large hunk of rock, the last piece to have been removed from the wreckage, was lowered back into the sea with a plaque dedicated to the victims who were killed.
In their East Boston apartment, Benji Smith and Emily Lau spent the day with friends – a much different scene than one year ago when they, too, were fighting for their lives aboard that ship.
“We were in our cabin looking at some photos we’d taken in Rome that day,” Smith said. “There was a sound, kind of a soft scraping sound from back behind us. And then everything in the room started tilting.”
The next minutes and hours are still vivid. The couple, on their honeymoon, grabbed life vests and headed to the 4th deck.
But getting into a lifeboat proved difficult as hundreds of people scrambled, they recalled, with no help from crew.
“After an hour waiting at the muster station, we finally got onto a lifeboat. But the ship was leaning to the side so much by that point that the lifeboat was crashing into the cruise ship and they couldn’t lower it to the water,” Smith said. “Eventually, the crew gave up and hoisted it back up to where we began.”
The rest of the story reads like a feature film script. Smith found a rope, made a makeshift ladder and he and Lau lowered themselves down the side of the ship. Two hours later, a boat took them to shore.
It took several days to get back to Boston, with very little assistance, the couple said, from the U.S. Embassy.
Those first few days home were difficult.
“We were really messed up back at that time. The PTSD was pretty bad,” said Smith.
The two immediately went into therapy for Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder and took the advice of their doctor.
“[The doctor told us] to take this experience and make something meaningful out of it and to make something possibly even beautiful,” Smith said.
He wrote a memoir titled, “Abandoned Ship.” Lau, a classically trained musician, composed an album of original songs.
“I think for me the making of the CD was the healing process,” she said.
The music details her experience, before, during and after the shipwreck. The book documents what Smith called a horrible, tragic and confusing situation, but one that left this couple bonded like never before.
“The whole experience brought us much closer together,” they both agreed.
Several times, before their rescue, the two said goodbye. Once, as those crowds pushed to get on lifeboats, they had this conversation.
“I looked at Benji and I said, ‘Hey, I don’t want to push, is that okay with you?’ And he said, ‘Yes, that’s okay with me,” Lau recalled. “And then we were both really quiet and then I said if we don’t push we won’t get on, then we might die and I said, ‘Is that okay with you?’ And he said, ‘That’s okay with me.’ And that’s when I knew I married my soul-mate.”
The two hope to see justice for what happened and for the lack of training that led to 32 deaths and put thousands of lives in danger.
“We’d been on the cruise for four days and had not been in a drill,” Smith said.
But they don’t feel the Captain who steered the ship into the reef is solely to blame.
“The Captain made his mistake, but throughout the rest of the chain of responsibility no one else stood up and took responsibility either. No one at the cruise company, no one at the Italian Police or the U.S. Embassy,” Smith added.
He feels they all turned their backs on the passengers and feels they were all culpable.
“I think what happened was not an isolated incident. I think what happened was just sort of a morality play at sea and it is showing us what our society is like,” Lau added. “When individuals are kind of thought and take care of each other and a big institution doesn’t, we have to remind ourselves to be nice to one another.”
Smith’s book, “Abandoned Ship,” is available online at Amazon and Barnes & Noble. Lau’s album, “Isle of Lucidity,” is on iTunes and Amazon. They hope in his words and her music, their story serves as an inspiration to others who have suffered tragedy and found meaning and peace in what happened.
“It makes us feel that our story can make a difference,” Smith said.
The couple has not taken any money from the cruise line. They do have an attorney, but have not filed suit.