By Eric J. Lyman
ROME, Jan. 12 (Xinhua) -- A year after the Costa Concordia cruise liner ran aground just off Italy's Giglio island leaving at least 30 dead and causing damages worth at least 500 million U.S. dollars, the hulking vessel still remains where it first capsized, where it has become a painful eyesore for locals as well as what experts say is a growing environmental hazard.
The ship capsized after rocks tore a long hole in its side On Jan. 13, 2012 -- a year ago on Sunday -- with 4,252 passengers and crew on board.
An investigation revealed that Captain Francesco Schettino deviated from the programmed route and piloted the boat too close to shore. His reasons for the deviation are still not clear, and Schettino earned headlines when he abandoned ship while the rescue operations were still under way, prompting the Coast Guard harbormaster Gregorio Maria De Falco, who repeatedly ordered Schettino to return to the ship, to angrily shout an expletive-filled warnings after him.
"You may have saved yourself from the sea, but I will make sure you pay for this," De Falco said at the time.
The investigation into Schettino's actions is ongoing, with the next hearing scheduled for later this month. He could face up to 20 years behind bars on charges of manslaughter, negligence, incompetence, and for abandoning the ship and failing to be the last person to leave the wreck.
But nearly a year after the wreck, most of the attention surrounding the incident is focused on the Costa Concordia itself, which continues to dominate the vista from the island's beautiful beaches.
Due to technical problems and budget issues, the schedule for removing the ship has been pushed back several times and it now appears to be removed only in late 2013.
In addition to the ship casting a shadow over the community, Sergio Ortelli, Giglio's mayor said it's also drawing a new kind of tourists, who comes for the day to gawk at the wrecked vessel.
Earlier in January, a group of such tourists, from Germany, rented an inflatable boat to visit the Costa Concordia and had to be rescued by the Coast Guard. But overall, the Italian press has reported that tourism to the area -- one of the local economy's mainstays -- has dropped by nearly a third over the last year.
"Everyone here will be thankful when the ship is finally moved and our lives can go back to normal," Ortelli said in an interview. "We have some of the best beaches in the world, and we enjoy simple lives. Having the ship still there is a reminder of this terrible tragedy. It makes it difficult to think of what happened as something from the past."
Environmentalists add that the wreckage presents an ever growing environmental risk. Though most of the fuel was removed from the ship within around 10 weeks of the accident, some of it remains, along with unknown quantities of potentially toxic substances like solvents, cleaning fluids, paint, and other chemicals.
"The Costa Concordia was like a floating city of more than 4,000 people, with all the substances that entails," said Angelo Gentili, one of the heads of the Italian environmental lobby group Legambiente.
"The more time that goes by the more likely it is that whatever containers are holding these substances could leak, causing significant damage in an environmentally sensitive area," said Gentili.
The upcoming anniversary is resulting in scores of memorial events for those who perished or were injured in the wreck.
There are plans to use the massive 80-ton boulder that tore the hole in the side of the ship to be moved to the island as part of a memorial to the incident.
Prayer services are planned at churches throughout the area, and there are plans for a special memorial event on Sunday.