Concordia survivor: I have a phobia about cruise ships

Posted at: 01/13/2013 10:34 PM
Updated at: 01/14/2013 12:36 PM
By: Dan Levy

ALBANY - One year ago, the Costa Concordia ran aground along the shoreline of Giglio, Italy, killing 32 people. Among the 4,200 passengers and crew members onboard that night, was a family from Schoharie County.

On the day when family members of Costa Concordia victims returned to the Italian seaside for an emotional memorial service, Joan Fleser and her family, from Duanesburg, not only find themselves uninvited from the event, they find their treatment totally unacceptable.

"It's just unbelievable that it's been a year already," says Joan Fleser, who along with her husband Brian, and their teenage daughter Alana, escaped from the capsized ocean liner January 13, 2012, just after sitting down to dinner. "You think that 32 people died for no reason, that brings out a lot of emotions. We were lucky, we were able to get to a lifeboat right away and the life boat was able to deploy."

Joan is thankful her family made it off the ship safely, but she says it happened despite what she believes was an unprepared ship's crew.

"They had no idea of how to deal with people in this catastrophe," she opined, "One woman sat there with a smirk on her face all day long."

On the first anniversary of the maritime disaster, survivors returned to Giglio, unveiling memorials to the victims, tossing flowers into the sea, and openly weeping as part of a massive rock that tore through the ship's hull was lowered back onto the ocean's floor.

The Fleser's did not attend. Joan says a letter she received from the cruise ship company uninviting her was offensive.

"To get the letter on Friday (which read): don't come on Sunday when this is Italy, it's kind of absurd," she said.

Joan says talking about the disaster for her has been therapeutic, although reaching the one year anniversary, when simmering anger, old emotions, and new-found frustration are congered up, can be difficult.

"It brings up bad memories," she says, "Some of us deal with it better than others. I know some people who have gone through PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder) treatments. Some people can't get on a ferry or even go near the water. My family went through an awful lot. Members of my family are still dealing with it."

It's not just foreign cruise line companies that Joan is disappointed with. She says her own U.S. State Department has also let her down.

In the immediate aftermath of the Concordia disaster, Joan says U.S. Embassy officials were "callous", slow to react, and less helpful then she had hoped.

She has testified at congressional hearings, hoping more transparency in the cruise line industry will result, but at this point, she says, it's "like banging your head against the wall."