January 20, 2020

Spoke OnlineBy BRENDAN DALEY

When Glen and Debbi Drinkwater decided to end their three-week European vacation with a cruise, they hadn’t realized they’d be among the last to step aboard the Costa Concordia.

When the vessel ran aground in mid-January, the incident made headlines worldwide. However, video coverage of the submerged vessel hit home for this Cambridge couple.

Four months ago, Debbi and Glen roamed those same halls, sat in that same dining room and conversed with those same crew members. The memories are still vivid.

“I remember the one waiter who was missing. He was extremely pleasant and very accommodating,” said Debbi, recalling her encounters with the crew.

Four months later, the man’s photo was broadcast on television as one of those missing.

“I had this surreal feeling knowing I was there (last year). I never thought this could happen.”

She also recalls seeing another man briefly during her time spent on the Costa Concordia. Described as a seemingly arrogant man, dressed in a captain’s uniform, Debbi recalls a beautiful woman on his arm at all times.

Casually strolling along the deck and dining in the dining room, they could tell that Francesco Schettino – captain during the Jan. 13 collision – “expected respect.” According to Debbi, rightfully so.

“The ports that this huge liner visited were crowded with other cruise ships as well as commercial vessels. The captain manoeuvred our ship with ease into these small spaces.”

A retired fire captain, among the first things Glen Drinkwater did after boarding the ship was establish an appropriate escape route. The couple went as far as counting the number of doors from their room to the nearest exit.

“If the lights went out, we could feel around for the doors and navigate through the halls.”

Nearly 24 hours after departing from harbour, the Drinkwaters were given a lifeboat drill, a safety measure required of cruise lines.

“I thought they could have given us the drill a little sooner,” said Debbi. After all, “we had already been at sea for a day.”

According to the Drinkwaters, this wasn’t the only safety issue.

“It was very difficult to understand the Italian announcements” – an apparent problem in emergency situations. “The passengers know nothing when there is a problem. The crew is told not to alert us.”

The Drinkwaters’ vacation ended with the couple stepping off the majestic ship onto the port and returning home safely.

As they watched the story unravel, their own trip seeming like yesterday, Debbi and Glen couldn’t help but feel uneasy. Their mental photographs of a pleasant holiday have been overwritten with images of tragedy and misfortune.

Debbi says the recorded conversation between the coast guard and captain was “unbelievable.”

“I never met a captain who would abandon distressed passengers,” she said. “Perhaps because of his obvious skill he thought he could safely pull off a showmanship.”

“He was a knowledgeable captain who made an error in judgment,” Glen added. “We both think he had moral obligation to make sure his passengers and crew were safely off the vessel.”

Of the 3,229 passengers and 1,023 crew members, all but 32 were rescued or made it to shore safely.