Family Rescue, Interrupted: A Survivor’s Tale From Doomed Italian Cruise Ship

Panic was unleashed aboard the Costa Concordia after it ran aground Friday night off the tiny Italian island of Giglio. Claudio Masia, 49, had his entire family to rescue, from his two children to his elderly parents. In the end, he couldn't quit

A rescue helicopter circles the sunken Costa Concordia cruise ship (Matthew Price)
A rescue helicopter circles the sunken Costa Concordia cruise ship (Matthew Price)
Nicola Pinna

PORTOSCUSO - There was no time to think. Claudio Masia would simply follow his instincts – what else could he do? -- as the water rose faster and faster inside the Costa Concordia cruise ship that had just run aground off the tiny Tuscan island of Giglio. To survive, and save his family members, it would be a matter of seconds.

In those few lingering moments between life and death, Masia thought first of his children, 8 and 13, and his young niece. Then his wife, and his mother and father. It would have all had a happy ending if only the last member to be rescued, his 85-year-old father, were still there when he'd returned after bringing his mother to a lifeboat.

But when he went back to the sinking ship, Giovanni Masia had disappeared in the darkness. Over the weekend, he was among those officially missing and unaccounted for. But now, he is among the six confirmed deaths. "I looked everywhere, in the dark of the night and into the black of the sea," recalled despondently Claudio Masia.

Grandpa's holiday wish

With the rest of the family back at home in Sardinia, Masia remained in Tuscany to wait for his dad.

Indeed, it was Giovanni Masia who'd had the idea of going on a cruise with the whole family. His son Claudio, who works in the aluminum industry, accepted the invitation to accompany his parents, along with his own young family.

"We were having dinner when we heard a violent blow, and then the lights went out," Masia recounted. "We realized something serious was happening. None of the Costa personnel informed us of what was really happening. We were left alone, in jeopardy."

The alarm signal came after 40 long minutes, in which crew members downplayed the seriousness of the situation. "I rushed to get the lifejackets in the bunks. Then I headed to deck no. 4 with my wife, our children, my parents and my niece. "

Then began the physical battle to escape death, and find a spot on the lifeboats that were being lowered, slowly, into the water. "I am not ashamed to say that I pushed people and used my fists to find a safe place. One guy tried to take my daughter's lifejacket, and I grabbed her just before she almost fell into the sea."

But the situation was destined to be even more complicated for his parents. He finally managed to carry his 84-year-old mother on his shoulders to get her to where she could find a seat on a lifeboat. Masia would have done the same with his father, but he didn't get back in time. "I never saw him again," he said. "He disappeared from my view as the ship sank."

Read the original article in Italian

Photo - Matthew Price

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Iran-Saudi Arabia Rivalry May Be Set To Ease, Or Get Much Worse

The Saudis may be awaiting the outcome of Iran's nuclear talks with the West, to see whether Tehran will moderate its regional policies, or lash out like never before.

Military parade in Tehran, Iran, on Oct. 3


LONDON — The Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Saeed Khatibzadeh said earlier this month that Iranian and Saudi negotiators had so far had four rounds of "continuous" talks, though both sides had agreed to keep them private. The talks are to ease fraught relations between Iran's radical Shia regime and the Saudi kingdom, a key Western ally in the Middle East.

Iran's Foreign Minister Hossein Amirabdollahian has said that the talks were going in the right direction, while an Iranian trade official was recently hopeful these might even allow trade opportunities for Iranian businessmen in Saudi Arabia. As the broadcaster France 24 observed separately, it will take more than positive signals to heal a five-year-rift and decades of mutual suspicions.

Agence France-Presse news agency, meanwhile, has cited an unnamed French diplomat as saying that Saudi Arabia wants to end its costly discord with Tehran. The sides may already have agreed to reopen consular offices. For Saudi Arabia, the costs include its war on Iran-backed Houthis rebels fighting an UN-recognized government in next-door Yemen.

The role of the nuclear pact

Bilateral relations were severed in January 2016, after regime militiamen stormed the Saudi embassy in Tehran. Amirabdollahian was then the deputy foreign minister for Arab affairs. In 2019, he told the website Iranian Diplomacy that Saudi Arabia had taken measures vis-a-vis Iran's nuclear pact with the world powers.

It's unlikely Ali Khamenei will tolerate the Saudi kingdom's rising power in the region.

He said "the Saudis' insane conduct toward [the pact] led them to conclude that they must prevent [its implementation] in a peaceful environment ... I think the Saudis are quite deluded, and their delusion consists in thinking that Trump is an opportunity for them to place themselves on the path of conflict with the Islamic Republic while relying on Trump." He meant the administration led by the U.S. President Donald J.Trump, which was hostile to Iran's regime. This, he said, "is not how we view Saudi Arabia. I think Yemen should have been a big lesson for the Saudis."

The minister was effectively admitting the Houthis were the Islamic Republic's tool for getting back at Saudi Arabia.

Yet in the past two years, both sides have taken steps to improve relations, without firm results as yet. Nor is the situation likely to change this time.

Photo of Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei in 2020

Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei in 2020

Riyadh's warming relations with Israel

Iran's former ambassador in Lebanon, Ahmad Dastmalchian, told the ILNA news agency in Tehran that Saudi Arabia is doing Israel's bidding in the region, and has "entrusted its national security, and life and death to Tel Aviv." Riyadh, he said, had been financing a good many "security and political projects in the region," or acting as a "logistical supplier."

The United States, said Dastmalchian, has "in turn tried to provide intelligence and security backing, while Israel has simply followed its own interests in all this."

Furthermore, it seems unlikely Iran's Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei will tolerate, even in this weak period of his leadership, the kingdom's rising power in the region and beyond, and especially its financial clout. He is usually disparaging when he speaks of Riyadh's princely rulers. In 2017, he compared them to "dairy cows," saying, "the idiots think that by giving money and aid, they can attract the goodwill of Islam's enemies."

Iranian regime officials are hopeful of moving toward better diplomatic ties and a reopening of embassies. Yet the balance of power between the sides began to change in Riyadh's favor years ago. For the kingdom's power has shifted from relying mostly on arms, to economic and political clout. The countries might have had peaceful relations before in considerably quieter, and more equitable, conditions than today's acute clash of interests.

If nuclear talks break down, Iran's regime may become more aggressive.

Beyond this, the Abraham Accord or reconciliation of Arab states and Israel has been possible thanks to the green light that the Saudis gave their regional partners, and it is a considerable political and ideological defeat for the Islamic Republic.

Assuming all Houthis follow Tehran's instructions — and they may not — improved ties may curb attacks on Saudi interests and aid its economy. Tehran will also benefit from no longer having to support them. Unlike Iran's regime, the Saudis are not pressed for cash or resources and could even offer the Houthis a better deal. Presently, they may consider it more convenient to keep the softer approach toward Tehran.

For if nuclear talks with the West break down, Iran's regime may become more aggressive, and as experience has shown, tensions often prompt a renewal of missile or drone attacks on the Saudis, on tankers and on foreign shipping. Riyadh must have a way of keeping the Tehran regime quiet, in a distinctly unquiet time.

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