Sunday, January 06, 2013

Jewish couple relives the night their honeymoon cruise turned into battle for survival 

Ian and Janice Donoff almost perished in the Costa Concordia disaster last year, but say they harbor no ill will toward the captain who allegedly abandoned the ship.

The London couple were celebrating their honeymoon aboard the luxury cruise liner when it ran aground off the Tuscan coast on January 13, killing over 30 people. They recounted their harrowing escape earlier this week in Netanya, where they keep an apartment.

Ian, 63, is a retired building engineer who has volunteered many times with the Israel Defense Forces as a tank mechanic. Janice, who broke bones in her hands and feet during the chaotic evacuation, now feels uncomfortable in large crowds.

The couple, who are religiously observant, had spent the fateful day in Rome, returning to the ship early to prepare for Shabbat. After dinner they watched a magic show. Then they heard a loud bang and scrape, and quickly realized it was not part of the act.

They were eventually instructed to report to the nearest muster stations with their life vests. Ian grabbed his tefillin (phylacteries ) on the way out the door.

"Around 11:00 P.M. the 'Abandon ship' signal went up and there was panic," Janice recalled. "Everybody was clamoring for the lifeboats."

The Donoffs found themselves stuck in an inner section with 400 other people and only one exit.

It was then, Ian recalls, that he recited the confessional Jewish prayer before death.

"I thought it was so unfair," he said. "My late wife had died some four years earlier, and I found Janice and we were just planning a new life."

They eventually managed to climb to an outer deck, where they were instructed to crawl down a rope ladder into a waiting lifeboat. The Donoffs say they were among the last of the 3,200 passengers off the boat.

On dry land they recited the "Birkat Hagomel" (the blessing of Thanksgiving ).

Costa Cruises offered to refund all passengers and provide 11,000 Euros in compensation for lost property, but the Donoffs did not accept the sum.

They have considered suing Costa Cruises and are currently negotiating with the company.

"I never dreamt that ship was going to sink," Janice said. "It's the 21st century; they don't sink."

The Donoffs spoke at the invitation of the Forgotten People Fund, a nonprofit that helps impoverished Ethiopian families in Netanya.


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