Crises and Memorials

This is a blog I wrote in 2013 about the anniversary of the Costa Concordia sinking.  It is still a valuable example of the role of memorials in crisis communication and the journalistic interest in the anniversary of a crisis.

Costa Concordia:  A Year Later

Crises can linger for organizations.  You could argue, the worse the crisis event the longer the effects can haunt an organization and its stakeholders.  When crises involve a loss of life, memorial and anniversaries serve to maintain awareness of the crisis and the continuing need for crisis communication.  The Costa Concordia is an example of the memorial and anniversary dimension of crisis communication and crisis management.

January 13, 2013 is the one year anniversary of the Costa Concordia crisis.  The Cruise ship ran aground off the coast of the Italian island of Giglio and sank killing 32 people of the 4,252 passengers and crew on board the ship. The Ship is still in the water and removal may not be complete unitl September of 2013.  It is only natural to commemorate and to remember such a terrible tragedy such as this crisis.  Carnival Cruise is the parent company involved in the crisis.  Carnival owns Costa Crociere SpA, the operators of the Costa Concordia.  Most of the crisis communication has come from Costa Crociere SpA. 

A number of events were planned to mark the first anniversary of the event including an unveiling of memorials to the victims, a minute’s silence held at the time of the crash, and a mass in honor of the victims at the church on the island of Giglio.  Here is the statement from Costa Crociere SpA about the event:


A year has passed since the dramatic events of the Costa Concordia, events which have left their mark on each one of us.

It has affected those closest to us – our guests and our staff – and we have the sincerest compassion for the suffering they have all experienced, and for the grief of the families of those who are no longer with us.

On 13 January 2013, there will be a commemoration day on the island of Giglio in memory of those who lost their lives. We will renew our thanks to the citizens of the Island, as well as to all the rescue teams, who were so generous in assisting and supporting the survivors on that night.

One year on, on 13 January flags will be flown at half-mast at all Costa’s offices worldwide, and on all of our ships. A mass will be held in the ships’ theatres with a minute’s silence at the end of the service.

In Genoa, the home of our head office, the local staff will attend another commemorative mass at the Basilica of St Mary of the Assumption, Carignano. As a mark of respect for our different religions, there will be an inter religious mass in Paris, Hindu ceremonies in Mumbay and Bali, a Muslim one in Jakarta, a Buddhist one in Shanghai and a Catholic mass in Goa, Jakarta, Manila and Lima.

Be assured that I am personally committed, along with all of Costa Crociere and the rest of the cruise industry, to make every possible effort to prevent something like this from happening again. The safety of our guests and crew has always been and will continue to be our paramount priority.

We would like to thank all those have given us continued trust and loyalty. We hope that all our prayers on this sad anniversary, expressed in different languages and beliefs but with a single voice, will help lead us to a brighter future.

With sincere gratitude,

Michael Thamm


The memorial was a visually dramatic element for the ceremony.  Here is a description of the memorial:  “The day of commemorations began when a section of the rock that tore a 70-metre (230-foot) gash in the ship’s hull was returned to the seabed. A crane mounted on a tug boat lowered the rock beneath the waves. A memorial plaque affixed to its side was all that distinguished it from the rocky coastline of the island of Giglio.”

The event actually generated a great deal of controversy and media coverage (legacy and digital) before is transpired.  Survivors were sent letters by Costa Crociere SpA asking them not to attend the event due to space limitations.  The focus was to be on the families and friends of the vicitms, not the survivors.  Costa Crociere SpA and the municipality of Giglio were running ceremony.  Here is a sample of the conflict:

“’We are sure that you will understand both the logistical impossibility of accommodating all of you on the island, as well as the desire for privacy expressed by the families at this sorrowful time,’ Costa chief executive Michael Thamm wrote in the letter obtained by The Associated Press.

He expressed sympathies to the survivors and said he trusted that their thoughts and prayers “will help lead us to a brighter future.”

While some survivors said they understood that the families who lost loved ones deserved particular attention, many of those who are still struggling to get through each day said the letter added insult to their injuries — both physical and psychological. Some speculated that the letter was more about keeping disgruntled passengers, many of whom have taken legal action against Costa, away from the TV cameras that have flooded the island for the anniversary.”

There was a compromise as survivors who did arrive in Giglio were accommodated.  However, the memorial and commemoration was much more contentious than was planned making a healing event divisive in some respects.

Questions to Consider

1.  Why was the idea of Costa Crociere SpA planning an anniversary and memorial a good idea?

2.  How could Costa Crociere SpA have executed the anniversary and memorial more effectively?

3.  What other factors can account for the tension between the survivors and Costa Crociere SpA?

4.  What are the purposes of a memorial for a crisis?  Does it seem like the Costa Concordia memorial will achieve these purposes?  Why or why not?

5.  What are the dangers when an organization becomes involved in memorial efforts?

6.  There is a closed Facebook page for Costa Concordia survivors.  How might this page have been of use when Costa Crociere SpA was planning the memorial and anniversary?




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