Crews work to pump more than 2000 tons of fuel from the Costa Concordia on Jan. 26th (Getty)
ROME - The Costa Concordia cruise liner lies on its side off a small island near the coast of Tuscany one year after it ran aground.
The captain accused of abandoning the ship for land as hundreds of his passengers struggled to make it to lifeboats has yet to be tried. Toxic substances in the ship's hold have yet to be drained.
"Everyone here will be thankful when the ship is finally moved and our lives can go back to normal," said Sergio Ortelli, mayor of Isola del Giglio.
People will gather on the island of Giglio on Sunday to mark the one-year anniversary of the disaster that left 30 people dead. Ship sirens will go off at 9:42 p.m., the moment the liner collided with a reef and listed to one side.
There are plans to use the massive 80-ton boulder that tore a hole in the side of the ship to be moved to the island as part of a memorial to the incident.
The ship's 4,252 passengers and crew were enjoying the evening and passing close to the picturesque island of Giglio when Le Scole reef tore open a huge gash in the hull of the Costa Concordia.
An investigation showed that Capt. Francesco Schettino deviated from the programmed route and piloted the boat too close to shore. His reasons for the deviation are not clear.
Schettino appeared in headlines worldwide when he left the ship and headed on a lifeboat to land while hundreds of passengers were still aboard and rescue operations were underway.
An audio recording of the Coast Guard harbor master, Gregorio Maria De Falco, berating Schettino went viral. De Falco repeatedly ordered Schettino to return to the ship, angrily shouting, "Vada a bordo, cazzo!" ("Get on board, for [expletive] sake!" when the captain refused to return.
"Captain," said De Falco at one point, "This is an order. Now I am in command. You have declared the abandoning of a ship and are going to coordinate the rescue from the bridge. What do you want to do? Go home?
"You saved yourself from the sea, but ... I am going to make you pay for this."
De Falco was made a hero by the Italian media, and Schettino was dubbed "Captain Coward." The investigation into his actions that night is ongoing. Schettino faces charges of manslaughter negligence, incompetence and abandoning the ship but has yet to be formally indicted.
Schettino complained this week that he was being demonized for an accident that has many to blame and is being portrayed as "worse than bin Laden." Prosecutor Francesco Verusio said Thursday that Schettino must be held accountable for "guiding a ship longer than (1,000 feet) and with more than 4,000 people on board as if it were a canoe."
The ship owner - Carnival Cruises, a U.S. and United Kingdom company - also faces lawsuits from the families of victims.
Most of the attention in Italy surrounding the disaster is on the Costa Concordia itself, which dominates the vista from the island's once-pristine beaches.
Italian authorities blame technical problems and budget issues for having to push back the removal of the ship several times. It was supposed to be gone by this past summer, then the end of 2012, then the summer of 2013, and the latest estimate this week is that it will be taken away in the fall.
Ortelli said the shipwreck draws a new kind of tourist who comes for the day to gawk at the half-submerged vessel. This month, a group of tourists from Germany rented an inflatable boat to get close to the Costa Concordia and had to be rescued by the Coast Guard after the group's craft was swamped by waves.
But overall, tourism to the area - one of the local economy's mainstays - has dropped by nearly a third over the past year, Italian media reported.
"We have some of the best beaches in the world, and we enjoy simple lives," Ortelli said. "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."
There's also a risk to the water and marine life. Most of the fuel was removed from the ship in a few weeks, but some of it remains, along with unknown quantities of potentially toxic substances such as solvents, cleaning fluids, paint and chemicals.
"The Costa Concordia was like a floating city of more than 4,000 people," said Angelo Gentili, one of the heads of the Italian environmental lobby group Legambiente, who is based in the Tuscan city of Grosseto. "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."
Gentili said the environmental community is worried about plans to tow the wreckage to a faraway port. Environmental hazards will rise during the transportation, he said.
"There are 400 people working on the ship now to prepare it for removal, but that number should be increased so it can be removed sooner, and it should be taken to a nearby port," he said.