Those Still Affected By Their Experiences Take Legal Action To Help With Recovery From Disaster
British victims of the Costa Concordia disaster have today backed calls for lessons to be learnt as they continue their battle for justice one year after the ill- fated ship capsized when it hit rocks off the coast of Italy.
Lawyers representing passengers and crew still suffering from the effects of the cruise liner crash say that lessons need to be learned from investigations into the incident and ongoing criminal proceedings.
As the first anniversary approaches, Irwin Mitchell’s specialist travel law team, who represent victims from Britain and a number of other countries around the world, are critical of the actions of Costa Cruises’ staff that caused the initial grounding of the ship, while evidence also suggests that lives may have been saved had appropriate evacuation procedures been followed.
Clive Garner, an expert travel lawyer at Irwin Mitchell who heads the specialist legal team representing the victims, said: “From the evidence available already, including expert evidence obtained during the criminal proceedings in Italy, it is clear that the initial grounding of the Costa Concordia should have been avoided and that subsequent failings in carrying out the evacuation process made a very bad situation far worse."
“It is now essential that as well as securing justice and the full and fair compensation all the victims need, that lessons must also be learnt from this disaster and safety standards must be improved for the benefit of others. My Partners and I have represented the victims and families of those tragically killed or seriously injured in many other past tragedies which have brought about positive changes in safety standards.
“This includes improvements following previous marine tragedies like the capsize of the Herald of Free Enterprise off the coast of Zeebrugge, the sinking of the Marchioness in the river Thames and the capsize of the Al Dana Dhow off the coast of Bahrain in 2006, where nearly 60 passengers and crew lost their lives. Important lessons have also been learned as a result of many aviation tragedies including the Lockerbie bombing ( Pan Am Flight 103)the Manchester airport fire and the events surrounding the 9/11 atrocities, as well as across a range of other disasters as diverse as the Kings Cross Station fire and the Northwick Park medical trials.
“In the same way, we and our clients from the Concordia disaster want lessons to be learned and improvements made in cruise liner safety standards including improved oversight and monitoring of on board safety and navigation, enhanced training, for crew in handling emergency situations, and the provision of good quality emergency information for passengers so that at least there will be some positive legacy from this most tragic event.
Irwin Mitchell confirm that many of their clients are still struggling with the memories of their experiences including flashbacks, nightmares and re-experiencing the sounds and sight of others on board the ship screaming for help and desperately trying to find space on lifeboats and escape to safety. Many passengers had to jump from the sinking liner and swim to shore in freezing water and complete darkness.
Amandeep Dhillon, an expert in the Irwin Mitchell legal team assisting survivors added: “As is often the case when people are involved in such terrifying events the psychological impact can be difficult to overcome. Some of our clients suffered physical injuries trying to escape the sinking ship while others are still suffering significant symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), a number have suffered anxiety attacks, personality changes, problems with concentration and difficulties resuming their normal day to activities.”
Costa Cruises which operated the Concordia, initially offered survivors a 30 per cent discount off future cruises, which was dismissed as “insulting” by both victims and lawyers.
Costa Cruises then increased the offer of settlement to €11,000 (£8,900) but the proposed settlement included an agreement not to take further legal action against the company - an offer Irwin Mitchell’s travel law team said at the time was premature as psychological and physical injuries, as well as individual losses, had to be considered on a case by case basis before an appropriate valuation for each clients’ claim could be made.
“It was simply too early to determine how badly the passengers and crew would be affected,” Amandeep said. "While some British passengers accepted the offer, others rejected it and instructed us to act on their behalf.
“We are currently liaising with lawyers representing the cruise line and are looking to ensure that our clients receive damages that fully take into consideration their pain, suffering and financial losses including the costs of any treatment to help them recover from psychological trauma. While we hope that fair settlements will be negotiated, if this cannot be achieved then our clients' claims will be pursued through the courts.”
Amelia Leon, from Brockley, south London, had worked as a singer on another cruise ship and was visiting her boyfriend, a crew member onboard the Costa Concordia, at the time of the tragedy.
The 23-year-old is now seeing a psychologist to help her deal with the trauma which has been diagnosed as post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
Amelia said: “I still have flashbacks and get migraines and panic attacks. I think about what happened every day and I’ve found it difficult to move on. I don’t think I’ll ever be able to sing on a cruise ship again because I’m too scared to get on a boat.
“Not because I think it will sink, because I know that is unlikely, but because I don’t want to be reminded of what happened. I just don’t want to feel trapped again.
‘I think it’s really important that cruise companies learn from this and make safety improvements so that others don’t have to suffer what we had to, I wouldn’t want anyone to go through our experience.’
“Luckily me and my ex-boyfriend escaped in a lifeboat but others weren’t so lucky. I remember seeing mothers throwing their babies onto lifeboats and just complete panic and confusion. No one knew what was happening.”
Joseph Stribley, a 20-year-old from Maidstone, Kent, is also taking legal action against Concordia’s owners. He had to jump from the sinking ship and swim to shore after being unable to get to a lifeboat.
He said: “I remember looking down at the water and thinking I was going to drown. There were no lifeboats we could use and the water was climbing higher and higher up the boat. So I just told myself I was going to die unless I jumped. Then I remember just swimming in the freezing cold water for land.
“There were people all around me in the water. I looked back and the ship looked like the Titanic. It was towering over me and I could hear it creaking over the sound of people screaming.
“It changed me as a person. I’m paranoid and panicky now. Every little alarm sets me off. I was in a restaurant once and I heard an alarm go off and I just had to run out.
“I wasn’t happy with the amount they offered me. It was barely enough to cover my possessions.”
Captain Francesco Schettino is due to face criminal proceedings early this year in Italy, with prosecutors calling for a 20-year prison sentence but he denies the charges and is suing Costa Cruises, his former employer, for wrongful dismissal after he lost his job in July.
Seven other officers and executives from Costa Cruises have also been charged over their roles in the disaster.
The cruise liner remains half sub-merged in water on rocks near Giglio, an island off Tuscany, and the operation to remove the wreckage is expected to be complete around June.