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Concordia – Still More Question than Answers

Written by: Paul Motter

We are not much closer to knowing exactly what happened with the Concordia now than we were on Friday. We do know there is a huge rock embedded in the port side of the ship’s hull – the side that is away from the shore where the ship is now laying on its side, with its stability in question. If there are high seas the ship could still slide to the bottom of the sea. Indeed, the ship moved last night and is now deeper in the water than it was yesterday.

The newest press release from Costa indicates that the line believes the captain made a significant miscalculation in getting too close to shore, and that he hit a rock (or rocks) that he did not know were there. However, the statement does not say where that rock was located. I have read two different theories, that he hit the rock during the close sail-by between the two islands – or that he hit an isolated rock some 300 meters off shore some 40 minutes later, at the point where he turned the ship around to head back to Giglio.

Local officials commented that the rock was hit earlier, but no one on board reported feeling or hearing anything at that point. Many onboard did report hear and feeling a loud, raspy, shuffling noise 40 minutes later – just before the captain slowed the ship down, reportedly dropped anchor and then returned the ship to Giglio. The sound is consistent both with hitting a rock and with anchors being dropped. Following that action we have reports of a first list to the port side (consistent with a new hole in the port side, turning the ship to starboard and with anchors being dropped).

This time line on this web site says the rock was hit 40 minutes later – which makes more sense according to details.

What we see is the ship laying on its starboard side north of the pier at Giglio Porto. The hull on the exposed side (on the ship’s port side) – away from the shore – has a huge rock embedded in it and it significantly damaged. The question is “when did this happen?”

If we trace the route the ship took before it find its final resting place we see this:
The ship approached Giglio Porto and made a difficult maneuver between two small islands – likely meant to impress the locals and people onboard hoping to take pictures. Most of the passengers were Italian who probably knew of the island but did not see it very often. The captain chose to give them an up close look. Many are people speculating this is when he hit the rocks embedded in the port side of the hull.
But about 40 minutes later – as the ship turned north by northeast after leaving the Giglio Porto, reports say passengers experienced a rumbling with a loud grating sound. This indicates the first contact with rocks could have happened at this point.

A tracking of the ship shows it stopped almost dead in the water 40 minutes after sailing between the two tiny islands at Porto Giglio and heading north by northwest. That was just after the moment when diners noted first a growling sound accompanied by shaking (striking an outcrop of rocks would do that) followed by a short period of calm, but then a loud “bang” sound followed the ship listing to the port side. Some of the power also went off at that point.

Costa just released an updated statement at 6:30 EST that says “there may have been significant human error on the part of the ship’s master, Captain Francesco Schettino, which resulted in these grave consequences. The route of the vessel appears to have been too close to the shore, and in handling the emergency the captain appears not to have followed standard Costa procedures.”

What are they referring to? Reuters reported that the ship struck some rocks and started taking in water quickly. They quote “officials” as saying the captain “made an attempted safety maneuver before realizing he had no choice but to evacuate as water poured in.” Both of those statements are consistent with hitting the rocks later.

“He turned the prow towards the port of Giglio and cast the anchors into the water in a bid to hold the ship steady as close as possible to the coast,” a coastguard official said.
In either case – we know the captain decided to turn the ship around and head back to Giglio Porto 40 minutes after the sail by. Whether the ship was crippled sooner or later is still not known, but it is hard to believe he would have continued sailing if the ship was badly crippled 40 minutes earlier.

Is it possible he was not in the bridge when it happened? Yes, very possible. And that whomever performed the sail-by did not tell anyone (or notice) water was coming into the ship in a 160-foot long gash? Not likely, but possible.

The Second Mistake
Once the captain decided to beeline back to Port Giglio there was also obviously the second error – the beaching of the ship on the outcropping of rock just yards away from the pier. Most officials agree this was an accident – but some disagree on whether he hit more rocks, or if it was just the backwash of underwater currents pushing the keel outward that caused the ship to tip. I find this unlikely, since the ship had to have been going very slowly at the point. I think it is more likely he hit more submerged terrain which pushed the keel away from the rocks and the top of the ship towards it – beaching the ship on its starboard side.

The ship seems to be resting on another rock now, it has barely moved for days – although a high tide did make it creep and sink a little more on Sunday night.

In any case – it appears the captain was trying to be the big hero in the situation by getting the ship to a point where everyone could be rescued before the ship sank. But was it going to sink at the point where he turned around? There was a 160-foot gash, but the ship also has fully water-tight sections. I don’t think the ship would have sunk even though that is a critical amount of damage. The proper thing would have been to stop the vessel out there and send a mayday. The ship could have been carefully towed back to Giglio, or at least close enough for evacuation to happen quickly and safely.
Of course, if he could have reached the pier (as he tried to do) then people could have packed up and just walked off. Unfortunately, he beached the ship on an outcropping or rocks before he could reach the pier.

I do not agree that the crew was any more or less competent than any other ship’s crew. This does not include the officers (not considered crew, considered “staff”). The crew responded exactly as they were trained – every member of the crew contingent is given a station and a job – mostly to just direct people the right direction once an abandon ship call has been made. The goal is to get them to the correct muster (lifeboat) station.

But in this case you had a ship where half the number of lifeboats was inaccessible. Furthermore, the ones who were interfacing with passengers were working on a cruise ship that normally caters to five different languages simultaneously; Italian, German, French, Spanish and English. The confusion among the passenger population had to so with the inability of the crewmembers to communicate with everyone equally.

Even more confounding – the officers were nowhere to be seen – the abandon ship signal was not given for several minutes (reports vary). And when it was given, there are no reports of officers going on deck to give instructions on lowering life rafts and utilizing the lifeboats. That information is critical. It reflects on whether the entire navigation team was as “cowardly” as the captain himself, or whether they were eventually heroes, of sorts, fixing all of the grand mistakes the captain had made.

I have read that the ship was mostly evacuated after two hours –although the media keeps reporting only what went wrong during the muster drill.

The Questions Remain
It is extremely frustrating to cruise industry reporters like me who are not being given an exact timeline of what happened:

1. When did the ship first hit the rock?
2. What happened 40 minutes later when the ship was turned around?
3. Was there a power failure during the crisis compromising the ship’s navigability?
4. Why was the ship beached? Power failure or just bad seamanship?
5. Would the ship have survived in using the “ship as a lifeboat” protocol had the ship just been stopped in the water and eventually towed back to port?

This last question is exactly what happened with Carnival Splendor off the coast Mexico two years ago. Of course, there was no hole in the Carnival hull, but the ship was towed for almost four full days before it reached San Diego. Although it has not been mentioned – Costa Concordia has almost the exact same floor plan as Carnival Splendor (both are of the Conquest class).
As bad as many of the details seem to be in this case – what is most disappointing is that there were so many opportunities to fix the situation.

The captain has been called a coward in this case – and that is accurate considering he left the ship before all of the passengers were evacuated. However, most of his decisions were not cowardly, they were “cowboy,” – starting with the decision to get too close to the island in the first place, followed by the decision to get the hobbled ship back to Port Giglio on his own.
Of course, he should have raised a Mayday signal as soon as he knew he was in trouble – when he turned the ship around. That is arguably cowardly, as he was hoping to reach Giglio Oporto so news of damage to the ship would be minimized in light of everyone being safely rescued.

Right now, my biggest concern is putting all of the actions into perspective by finding out when the captain hit a rock, but more importantly I want to know what happened to the missing people.
Are they under water because they were told to wait in their stateroom and then could not get out when the lifeboat drill was finally sounded? Or are they some of the people who jumped by could not make it to the shore. Either way – a failure to manage the ship population is the fault here. And it needs to be mentioned that the newly boarded passengers from the same day had not had a life boat drill yet – it was scheduled for the next day.

I don’t know how bad the shore conditions were there, but if you could not swim to shore right away you could easily have been swept out to sea in cold water and weather. You would not last long in that open water.

Bottom line – we need a solid timeline to know what happened here – there were too many tipping points where things went wrong that were against regular protocol. If you have any details, please contribute them to our comment section below.

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Comments

Comment from Pat Hagan
Time January 17, 2012 at 9:49 pm

I was on the Costa Concordia’s inaugural sailing, representing Cruisemates. We did NOT have a lifeboat drill for the entire cruise–five days!

Comment from Rob Holloway
Time January 17, 2012 at 11:08 pm

All excellent questions Paul.
On all our cruises with Princess, Holland America & Celebrity we have had lifeboat drills on the day of departure and normally an hour prior to, around 4pm.
On Celebrity the life boat drill was conducted on the boat deck under your assigned lifeboat area.
Our cruise main areas were out of Los Angeles, Southampton, Vancouver, Sydney and Barbados

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