The Catholic chaplain of the sunken cruise ship Costa Concordia has defended the ship’s crew from reports they were negligent towards passengers during the maritime disaster.
Fr. Rafaeli Mallena was “very upset” by initial reports that indicated the crew was not taking care of passengers.
“But I am a personal witness of people leaving their families and children and I saw personal sacrifice. There was a staff captain, for example, who saved three or four people who could not swim,” the chaplain said, according to Fr. Giacomo Martino, national director of Italy’s Apostleship of the Sea.
Fr. Mallena, who is 70, went to the ship’s chapel after he heard the first sounds of collision. Forty minutes later, hearing the “abandon ship” alarm, he consumed the Eucharist and locked the staff’s valuables in a safe.
He tried to stay aboard to help passengers, but crew members persuaded him that it would be better if he boarded a lifeboat and left the ship.
The priest has since returned to Rome where he is recovering.
Fr. Martino recounted the chaplain’s story to the U.K. newspaper The Catholic Herald.
“The work of cruise chaplains onboard is of great value to encourage and support crew and passengers at difficult moments,” said Fr. Martino. “The crew worked to save passengers with great generosity and a spirit of selflessness.”
Fr. Giacomo asked for prayers for those who have died or are missing. At least 11 are dead and 28 are missing, according to Italian press reports.
The ship sank after it hit a bank of rocks off the island of Giglio to the west of Tuscany. More than 4,200 passengers and crew were aboard.
The priest and parishioners of the island worked during the night to assist those leaving the ship. Many passengers first took refuge in churches and schools.
Local Italian chapters of the Apostleship of the Sea have been distributing clothing and food to the survivors, Vatican Radio reports. The apostleship is an international Catholic ministry serving those who work and travel on the world’s oceans and seas.
Two of the missing include Jerry and Barbara Heil of White Bear Lake, Minn., whom colleagues describe as devout Catholics. Their daughter told Chicago’s WBBM radio that her parents had been looking forward to their 16-day vacation after raising four kids and sending them to college.