Thieves have stolen the brass bell from the wreckage of the Costa Concordia, the prosecutor investigating the tragedy revealed today. The bell, which weighs 10kg, had the name of the Concordia engraved on it as well as the year it was launched, 2006. It hung on the bridge of the stricken liner and was secured with heavy duty bolts. Souvenir hunters are thought to be behind the theft.
Following the disaster two months ago, an iconic image was released by coastguards of two divers swimming close to the bell and it became the symbol of the tragedy which cost the lives of more than 30 people.
When it went missing earlier this month its disappearance was initially kept quiet, but news leaked out after rumours began to spread among locals on the Italian island of Giglio, off which the liner is now lying.
The Concordia’s captain Francesco Schettino, 52, is currently under investigation for causing a shipwreck, multiple manslaughter, abandoning ship and damaging a protected natural environment.
He is said to have steered the 290m liner, which had more than 4,000 passengers and crew onboard and had just set off on a Mediterranean cruise, onto rocks after recklessly altering course in order to carry out a sail-by salute of Giglio.
The bell was at a depth of eight metres and officials are baffled as to how it disappeared. There is a constant, round-the-clock guard on the site, and an exclusion zone around the ship forbids non-emergency vessels from approaching the wreck.
Prosecutor Francesco Verusio, who is leading the investigation, said today: ‘I can confirm we are looking into the theft of the Concordia’s bell. It disappeared around two weeks ago and we had tried to keep the news quiet.
‘We already have enough work to do with the case – now we have to investigate this as well. The area is under surveillance, but the depth the bell was at was only eight metres so it’s not very deep and at night it’s very possible someone went down there when it was dark.
‘The bell was secured with heavy duty bolts, so the theory we are looking at is that it would have taken more than one person to take it. Only authorised divers and boats are allowed near the site as well as the team involved in removing the fuel from the Concordia’s tankers.’
A source close to the investigation said: ‘The most likely culprits are souvenir hunters. The ship’s story went around the world and the pictures of the bell were seen by millions, so it’s a very unique item and would fetch a good price.’
In the days after the disaster, items from onboard the Concordia were also posted on the internet auction site eBay. These included chips from the casino as well as playing cards, crockery and pictures.
Traditionally it is the duty of the cook or his staff to polish the ship’s bell and it is rung for crew members so they can set their watches and regulate duty times.
Unlike civil clock bells, the strikes of the ship’s bell do not tally with the number of the hour. Instead there are eight bells, one for each half hour of a four hour watch.
The National Maritime Museum in Greenwich has an extensive collection of ships’ bells and the bell from the Titanic which sank 100 years ago next month has also been recovered.
Schettino, who is currently under house arrest at Meta di Sorrento near Naples while the investigation continues, insists he did all he could to save the ship and that the rocks he struck were not on charts he was using.