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Concordia – What We Finally Know

Written by: Paul Motter

We now know the ship DID hit the rocks during the sail-by just outside the two Le Scole reef islands. This did NOT seem likely earlier since no one reported the damage when it occurred – highly unusual. In fact, nailing down the timeline in this incident has been the hardest part.

According to Costa the captain was on the bridge at the time the rock was hit. But the captain stated the first night that he went up to the bridge 40 minutes later and “discovered the ship was badly off course”. This makes no sense as a declaration if he obviously knew the ship made the close sail-by to Giglio Oporto and the ship was returning to its regular course to reach Savona.

But the captain apparently decided for then (40 minutes later) for the first time that since the ship had a huge hole in its port side – that he should return to Giglio Oporto. The captain dropped anchor and turned the ship around.

The ship was then headed back to the pier at Giglio Oporto. But the question is why a Mayday was not raised much sooner so boats on the island could be made ready to pick up passengers if the ship had to stop and begin evacuation procedures. For that matter – a Mayday should have been sounded the moment it was known the ship had hit a rock – on the sail-by much earlier that night.

Costa said this morning that the captain called the Costa land marine department at 10:05 Italy time. This seems to be just after the time of the beaching and probably just before he left the ship.

But that was not the most serious problem – the worst part was the actual beaching of the ship on the island before it could reach the pier in Giglio Oporto. This made the ship evacuation nearly impossible due to the list to starboard – away from the side of the initial damage.

Was the beaching a mistake – or did the captain feel the ship was sinking? It seems most likely it was a mistake – but was the ship mechanically compromised – or was he really that bad at steering the ship? It should be noted that beaching a ship is a common procedure to keep it from sinking. But in this case it was not a clean beaching – it does not seem to be intentional.

Now to the crew and life boat drill.

All crewmembers on any ship are assigned to a life drill station – their job is to direct passengers to their own assigned lifeboats. The problem in this situation was that half of the lifeboats were incapacitated because of the list. The question is whether or not officers took over once the captain left and made decisions regarding life rafts and the use of the existing life boats. We have no reports of anyone on the navigational staff (after the captain left the ship early) of being on the scene. But it seems as if someone must have taken over.

The main problem in this situation is that Costa is marketed to the pan-European market to offer cruises in five languages simultaneously, or consecutively as the case may be. Much of the panic and confusion before “abandon ship” was sounded had to do with the fact that there were so many passengers who only spoke their native languages; Italian, German, French, Spanish or English – plus possible other languages; Scandinavian, Portuguese (Brazilians), Russian, etc.

Every crew is trained to perform their duties on a stable ship – not a crippled one. This case required extreme measures and someone trained in all aspects of lifeboats to take over the evacuation. It appears someone did take over since over 4000 people were evacuated within two hours, but Costa has not identified who was in command during the evacuation. It would be nice to know.

It has already been noted that this ship board passengers in four different ports of call every week on this itinerary. The 696 who were boarded in Civitavecchia had not been given a lifeboat drill since more passengers were scheduled to board in Savona the next day – and so the drill for all of Friday’s passengers had not been held at the time of the accident.

Finally – what should have happened. The protocol of cruise ships these days is to use the “ship as the lifeboat” – if the ship had been stopped as soon as the initial damage occured everyone could have been evacuated with no loss of life or property. A mayday should have been sounded immediately.

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Comments

Comment from Dave Beers
Time January 16, 2012 at 2:38 pm

It is becoming more and more apparent to me that the Captain made a bad situation worse by deciding to head to the island and do his anchor drop maneuvers. As stated in this article all he had to do was stop, evacuate and then isolate the lower decks, and then the ship would have most likely been in a static situation for an orderly evacuation. The ship would also have been essentially upright and able to be towed to a port. Instead we have dead people, missing people, and when it is all said and done probably a billion dollars or more in losses for Carnival Corporation.

And the entire cruise industry takes a major public relations hit with ramifications none of us can accurately predict at this point.

Personally I’d board a Costa ship today with no worries. But I doubt I speak for the millions of people who have never cruised, who now cast a jaundiced eye towards cruising.

Comment from Tom Smith
Time January 16, 2012 at 6:46 pm

Thanks for the very informative article. This is getting a lot of press because of the size of the ship and how close we are to the 100th annaversery of the sinking of the Titanic. It sounds like the captain was doing something really stupid and is now trying to cover himself. By the way, is it just me, or does that captain look a lot like Bill Murry?

Comment from Ken
Time January 17, 2012 at 2:37 pm

It is high time that all cruise ships perform a complete muster drill b/f they leave the port. It is obvious more regulation is needed.

Comment from George
Time January 17, 2012 at 7:23 pm

Paul,

There is a transcript (of a 1 hour conversation with the Captain) on yahoo from the Italian Coast Guard: where they repeatedly ordered the captain to return to his vessel, repeatedly he refused giving instead many excuses not to obey their direct orders. This Captain and his Relief Captain who was with him, are in a great deal of trouble!! My understanding of Maritime Law is that one is presumed guilty and thus must prove their innocence. Based on the transcripts the two Captains are going to have a very rough time ahead!!!

Comment from Kenneth Eden
Time January 18, 2012 at 7:16 am

It is easy to say that a muster drill should take place on any given cruise ship, in fact it is required, part of SOLAS.

HOWEVER, here is the rub: The captain has total command of his vessel, and if the captain says forget it, we are not having it, so be it, there will be no drill ESPECIALLY in Europe or any waters that a cruise originates that is not patroled by the US Coast Guard, PERIOD> That is also where a low sanitary score may also play in to things.

As I have stated before, only once was I on a cruise that did not have a muster drill, out of Venice, on the NIEUW AMSTERDAM just this past August.

Myvery first travel agent, bless his heart, Malcolm from Thomas Cook in Boston told me that under no circumstances take any cruise ship that does not call in the USA or Canada due to inspections and safety concerns. Have I followed this advice over thee years, well, no. BUT I try to!

Comment from JudyG
Time January 19, 2012 at 1:35 pm

Recognizing that cruising is still a safer way to travel than airplane, car, or perhaps even pedestrian travel, the Concordia disaster brings to mind several things I’ve wondered about during my previous cruises: 1. What size/weight figures are used to calcuate the capacity that is shown for lifeboats? American passengers are generally taller and heavier than most other nationalities, but given the fact that many of the ships are built in Italy where people are generally shorter and lighter than most Americans, I’ve wondered just how many passengers can really be accommodated in the lifeboats. 2) Am I correct that even if #1 was not an issue, a number of passengers would be assigned to life rafts rather than lifeboats? If that is the case, I’ve never received in a muster drill any information on how those rafts would be launched and passengers transferred into them. 3)On many cruises, I’ve noticed a significant number of people using wheelchairs, walkers and even scooters. While I am happy that people with disabilities are able to enjoy cruising, I’ve always wondered how, especially if the power goes out and elevators are not available, these individuals could be evacuated and transferred into lifeboats. I’ve never seen these topics addressed, and of course they are not happy thoughts, but in light of the Concordia tragedy, I think they deserve commentary. Thanks.

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