SA couple relive sinking ship ordeal

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By LALI VAN ZUYDAM

Pretoria - As the first anniversary of the Costa Concordia’s sinking draws closer, a Pretoria couple have relived their nightmare as if it were yesterday.

Mike and Narien van Dijk were upbeat and planned to continue their holiday when the Pretoria News spoke to them shortly after the ship sank off the coast of Italy almost a year ago.

When the ’News met them again this week, they said their bravado had faded quickly after reality had set in. Narien said the remainder of their trip was without “oomph” as they spent two and a half weeks watching television in their hotel room while being kept updated on the story’s progress.

When they returned to South Africa, their friends and family gathered to welcome them back.

Their children only received one phone call informing them that their parents were safe but could not be contacted because their cellphones had sunk with the ship. “My cousin had a sign at the airport when we arrived saying ‘welcome back Costa Concordia survivors’. It was great to be back on solid South African soil,” Narien said.

The couple decided to see a trauma counsellor two weeks after their return when Mike realised “he did not know where his emotional tolerance limit was”.

Narien said she could not sleep and jumped at the slightest sound.

On Sunday, the anniversary of the sinking, the Van Dijks will again surround themselves with family to distract them from their negative thoughts on reliving the tragedy.

The trip on the Costa Concordia had been the couple’s fourth cruise.

“We were cruise people but it is highly unlikely we will board a ship again,” Mike said. Narien said they are not afraid it might happen again because, statistically, it is unlikely, but she in particular is afraid of the large body of water around the ship.

“We had an equal chance to survive or perish. It was, all in all, horrible,” Mike said.

He said the experience changed their lives forever. “The one image etched in my mind is one of a father passing his baby along asking people to save his child while he stayed on the ship,” Narien said in tears.

The Van Dijks said they have grown closer and have become more religious since their ordeal.

Narien told of how Mike wanted her to get on a lifeboat and leave him behind as the ship sank. “I said there was no way and clung to him. I told him if we die, we die together,” she said. Thirty two of the 4 229 passengers died that fateful night.

“We were not lucky, I know we were saved for a reason,” Narien said. They both continue working, Mike in IT and Narien runs her own industrial embroidery business.

Mike is preparing to swim his eighth Midmar Mile this year because he believes they have to carry on as before. “The therapist told us the scars will never go away, but we’ve learnt to cope and as soon as the trial ends, we can close this chapter,” Mike said.

While the court cases continue, Mike said, the ordeal carries on for them too.

“I have alerts on my phone for anything that comes up on the internet regarding the ship and the progress of the court case in Italy. We will only be able to let go once everything is settled,” Narien said.

The Van Dijks, along with 157 other passengers, have taken legal action. All had declined a settlement of E11 000 from the holding company.

The Van Dijks lost everything they had with them, including cameras, cellphones and clothes. Mike points to the shoes and watch he was wearing and said they were the only things he had left when they eventually reached land.

l Discovery Channel will air a documentary of the incident on Sunday, January 20.

Pretoria News

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