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'Retreat' priest was on Concordia

An Italian priest has a lot of explaining to do after telling his parishioners he was going on a spiritual retreat for a week of contemplation and prayer, only for it to be revealed that he was on the capsized Costa Concordia cruise ship.

Fr Massimo Donghi, who boarded the liner at Civitavecchia, north of Rome, for a cruise of Mediterranean ports was found out when his nephew, who was also on the ship, wrote on Facebook that the priest had survived the disaster.

The nephew told worried friends and relations that he, his uncle and the priest's elderly mother had managed to get into lifeboats when the liner ran aground off the Tuscan island of Giglio on January 13.

They were among the 4,200 passengers and crew forced to evacuate the ship. Its captain, Francesco Schettino, is under house arrest in his home town of Meta di Sorrento near Naples.

Fr Donghi will have to explain his trip to his parishioners in Besana Brianza, near Monza in northern Italy.

They had been under the impression that he had signed up for a week of simple living and religious devotion, rather than a cruise on board a ship which boasted spas, saunas, whirlpool baths, four swimming pools, 13 bars, and a casino.

"What do you want me to say?" the priest told the Italian news magazine 'Panorama'. "I will talk to my parishioners in church. The judgment of others is not important to me."

Meanwhile, Costa Cruises, the Italian owners of the capsized liner, has offered passengers €11,000 each in compensation. It applies to about 3,000 passengers from some 60 countries. Those who accept will have to agree to renounce any other litigation efforts.

Each passenger would also receive a refund on the cruise and the costs of their journey home.

At least 32 people are thought to have died in the tragedy. So far only 16 bodies have been recovered. Costa's compensation offer does not apply to the hundreds of crew on the ship, the 100 or so cases of people injured or the families who lost loved ones.

Codacons, a consumer organisation that was not party to the negotiations, advised passengers to reject the offer. The company is collecting names for a class action requesting €149,000 each.

Meanwhile, John Arthur Eaves, an American personal injury lawyer, is urging passengers to file individual lawsuits in the US. "People need to be treated like individuals. Everyone in this boat had different damages," he said.

But Roberto Corbella, who represented Costa in the negotiations, said the deal offered passengers a speedy and "generous compensation".

Costa Cruises has also been criticised by officials such as Beniamino Deidda, the chief prosecutor of Tuscany. "Lifeboats that do not descend, staff that did not know what to do, lack of preparation, clumsy and absurd orders to return to the cabins -- the confusion indicates an incredible negligence in enforcing safety," he said.

With little or no hope of finding further missing passengers alive, the Dutch salvage firm Smit will today begin extracting the vessel's 2,380 tonnes of fuel oil in order to prevent it leaking in to the sea. (© Daily Telegraph, London)

Irish Independent