FEATURES Salem Times Register

Salem residents sailed on doomed cruise ship in fall

SALEM – Three Salem residents and a former one are glad their cruise on the Costa Concordia was in October instead of last week.

The night of Friday the 13th, the same captain and Italian-registry ship that Beverly Reger, Ricki Moushegian and Peggy Weaver from Salem and Katie Moushegian of Atlanta sailed on evidently detoured too close to shore, hit a rock and sank off the coast of Italy.

Salem residents Beverly Reger, Ricki Moushegian and Peggy Weaver, from left, and former resident Katie Moushegian sailed the same route from Rome on the Casa Concordia that sank last week.
Salem residents Beverly Reger, Ricki Moushegian and Peggy Weaver, from left, and former resident Katie Moushegian sailed the same route from Rome on the Casa Concordia that sank last week.

The confirmed death toll – so far – was reported at more than a dozen out of 4,200 passengers plus crew.

Their cruise together in the fall was the second for Katie, the 19th or so for Reger, and the first for their other friends, Reger said. They sailed from Rome Oct. 23 and returned to the Roanoke Valley on Nov. 2. The first Reger knew it was the same ship was when Katie called her the day after the tragedy.

“She said, ‘You know, it’s our ship.’ ”

It was the same route and the same captain, too: Francesco Schettino, who, according to news reports, abandoned ship before making sure passengers and other crew were off.

Schettino was arrested and charged with manslaughter, shipwreck and abandoning ship, according to a letter Reger received this week from Alan Fox, chairman and CEO of Vacations To Go.

Passengers who told their stories to media after escaping from the sinking ship Reger said was the length of three football fields described chaos and confusion after the ship hit the rock, electrical systems failed as it sank and only a few of the lifeboats were launched.

Reger said from the friends’ experience sailing on the Concordia and the other 18 cruises she has been on, she can understand why passengers didn’t know what to do in an emergency.

“Basically, ships that sail out of foreign ports have 24 hours after sailing to conduct the muster drill (that instructs passengers in what to do in an emergency),” she said. “We had the muster drill o the Concordia on the second day, in keeping with the law of the land.”

Reger said on the friends’ October cruise, “We had people from 26 countries aboard the ship. We were made aware that crew would go through 15 or 16 languages with each announcement.”

She said on their cruise, “Sometimes you would stop someone and they didn’t speak English. They would find someone for you who did.”

Another aspect she found unusual compared about the Concordia compared to other cruises was that at its stops in Barcelona, Palermo, Malta and Mallorca, “They took on different people at different ports. There were maybe 25 people coming and going at each port,” she added.

Although she feels sorrow for passengers who went through the ordeal and those who died, Reger said from what she understands, the captain “took it upon himself to go off course. I do not believe he went inland when we were aboard. I know we did not see any land while we were at dinner. I’m fairly certain.”

She has thought about what it must have been like for the passengers that night. “I can’t imagine anybody who had not been on a cruise before and who had no idea what the routine was. I have no idea what I would have done,” Reger said. “I probably would have had a heart attack.”

The Concordia was a subsidiary of Carnival Cruise lines.

Only a few of the Concordia’s lifeboats were launched, passengers told media. Some jumped into the water and swam about 200 feet to the shore, where residents of the small island of Giglio, Italy, took them in, the CEO said.

Until they could be rescued, other passengers held onto railings and other stationary objects on the severely listing ship that had a 160-foot-long hole in the hull, CEO Fox said in his letter.

Reger had made the same cruise several years ago with her Aunt Molly, she recalled.

Will she take a cruise again?

Absolutely. “I would like to go on a cruise again in March. By then I will be tired of winter.”

And would any of them sail on a Costa ship again? Reger and Katie Moushegian, for whom the October trip was her second cruise, said they would.

“To me, it’s like a plane crash that’s pilot error…,” Reger said, adding, “This will not keep me from going on a cruise tomorrow, even if it was the Costa Line.”

About the author

Meg Hibbert

Meg Hibbert held the position of editor of the Salem Times-Register and The New Castle Record from July 1999 - July 2014. She won more than two dozen awards from the Virginia Press Association for feature writing, columns, business articles, health and environmental writing and education coverage. She and her husband, Bill, live in Salem and are avid University of Georgia Bulldogs.

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