Posted: 15 Jan 2012 11:20 AM PST
by Anne Campbell
It has taken me 24 hours to write about the Costa Concordia’s disastrous cruise from Rome which resulted in five deaths and the latest estimate of 17 missing passengers because I’ve been covering the cruise industry for almost two decades. I know that Carnival Corporation, which owns Costa Cruises, is a leader in terms of building vessels that meet the highest safety specifications. (Photo: Solaro/AFP/Getty Images)
It was astonishing to see photos of a five year old 115,000 -ton cruise ship lying on its side roughly 600 feet from shore, hearing the harrowing tales of passengers swimming to shore, the utter pandemonium and panic of abandoning a
dark listing ship. Not only is it the 100th anniversary of the sinking of Titanic but some of the details are scarily similar: a 950-foot gash in the ship’s hull that looks like someone tried to open it with a can opener coupled with people jumping in the water, the crew unable to launch many of the ship’s lifeboats and utter panic.
I attended this ship’s splashy Italian christening in 2006, toured half-built ships in dozens of visits to European shipyard, spent a great deal of time over the years interviewing ship builders and cruise line execs about cruise ship safety. I’ve written that the only threat to a modern cruise ship is fire.
So, how could this happen to cruise ship in the 21st century?
The answer is that we won’t know for sure until Costa Concordia’s little black box reveals moment-by-moment sequence of events that resulted in the 4,000-passenger vessel crashing on rocks of Isola del Giglio on the Italian Riviera. At present the ship’s master, Captain Francesco Schettino, has been arrested, charged with multiple manslaughter, causing a shipwreck and abandoning ship. In an interview, the visibly distraught Captain said the “rocks not detected” on the navigational chart. Three people trapped inside the ship have been rescued as the search for 17 missing people continues.
On January 13, Costa Concordia had set sail from Civitavecchia (port of Rome) on a seven day cruise at 4:00 p.m. with scheduled port calls in Savonna, Marseille, Barcelona, Palma de Mallorca, Cagliari and Palermo. Seas were calm and the Italian officers certainly knew this itinerary well since Concordia sails on this fixed itinerary each week. On board the vessels were 3200 passengers and a crew of 1000. International maritime laws stipulate that a mandatory lifeboat drill must take place within 24 hours of departing the port of embarkation and, as is quite common in this industry, Concordia’s was scheduled the following morning.
Shortly before 10:00 p.m. there was a sudden “boom and crash” followed by loss of electricity as water began spilling into the ship. Costa Concordia immediately started to list and passengers in the main dining room report that dishes and glasses crashed to the floor. An announcement from the bridge told passengers not to panic, that everything was under control.
But passengers and crew did panic There are reports of people being shoved down stairways as people raced to their staterooms to don life jackets. After 45 minutes the order to abandon ship created more chaos since passengers didn’t know where to go. In an interview one passenger said he was unable to board a lifeboat and swam to shore while a video taken on board a lifeboat illustrates how terrified its passengers were. Because the ship was listing many lifeboats couldn’t be launched.
While it may be true that the only real threat to a cruise ship is fire, there are clearly two other factors which can turn a cruise into a disaster: technical problems and human error. An example of the first is Carnival Splendor, which lost power in 2010 off the coast of Mexico. While the ship sat in the ocean for days there was nothing remotely frightening or dangerous about the experience. As for human error, we’ve seen that since the first human went to sea.
Again, nobody knows what caused this terrible accident. But several maritime experts interviewed about Costa Concordia expressed the a concern — ships carrying thousands of people have become too large to evacuate everyone safely.
For further information……….
BBC has the most comprehensive information and video interviews.
I was very dismayed to read that ships in Costa Cruises (headquartered in Rome) fleet have had a larger than normal number of mishaps. See the report in the Daily Mirror (UK)
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