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March 2012

News Letter - 28th March 2012

COSTA CONCORDIA: - WHAT WENT WRONG? A COMPARISON WITH THE TITANIC DISASTER!

Costa Concordia

On Friday 13th January 2012 the Costa Concordia – a cruise ship with a GRT of 114,137 tonnes and a length of 290M with 4,252 passengers and crew on board ventured too close to shore and tore its bottom out.  This disaster left 30 persons dead, 64 with various injuries and five passengers still missing. The vessel which cost $569 million to build and entered service in July 2006, will most likely be declared a total constructive loss. This happened only three months short of the 100th anniversary of the sinking of Titanic (14th / 15th April 1912) – the “unsinkable vessel” – and the world’s greatest peacetime ship disaster.

What are the similarities?

Costa Concordia!

The Cost Concordia had left its last port of Civitavecchia (Italy) only three hours prior to the disaster where 700 new passengers boarded the vessel. The passengers had not received any instructions in case of an on board emergency and a lifeboat drill had not been carried out – the latter was planned for the next day.

The Master – 52 year old Francesco Schettino had moved the vessel away from the route on the passage plan in order to “salute” a recently retired senior officer on the island of Giglio where the vessel struck rocks and ripped open a considerable area of the port side below the waterline. The vessel continued on its route for some minutes after being holed before it was realised the breach was serious and the vessel turned around and headed back to the island. Whether the Master was trying to get the vessel into the very small island harbour or just beaching the vessel is not yet known but the vessel settled heeled over about 60 degrees to stb’d.  At first the Master reported “an electrical problem” and it was some time before the full “horror” of the disaster became known.
From passenger reports and brief phone videos there was utter chaos on board and absolutely no leadership or crisis management from the crew and in particular the senior officers. Many of the lifeboats could not be launched due to the speed with which the vessel healed more than 20 degrees: a davit launched life-boat cannot be launched once a ship heels in excess of 20 degrees or it pitches greater than 10 degrees. Fortunately the vessel settled on the rocks in shallow warm water on its stb’d side very close to land otherwise the loss of life could have been even greater than that of the Titanic.

The Master left the vessel on one of the first lifeboats to be launched and refused to return to the vessel even after being clearly instructed by the shore maritime officials to do so. The Master has been under house arrest since shortly after the incident and an enquiry is in progress with a court case pending. He has been accused of multiple manslaughter, failing to assist 300 passengers and failing to be the last to leave the wreck. If the matter was not so serious that statement could be construed as a bad joke since he was one of the first to leave the wreck! He could face a 2,500 year prison sentence: another bad Italian joke perhaps?

Titanic

On the night of 14th / 15th April 1912 the Titanic with a total of 2,223 passengers and crew on board on its maiden voyage and travelling at it’s near full speed of 22 knots struck a large ice-berg in the North Atlantic and sank in less than three hours with a loss of 1,512 people. The vessel had only enough lifeboats for about 30% of its passengers and crew. The lifeboats, the majority of which had a capacity for 68 persons were leaving the vessel only part filled. There was a total lack of leadership and general chaos reigned. The ‘berg that the Titanic hit was part of a large ice field drifting down from between Greenland and Canada into the North Atlantic. It had been a mild winter that year which had lead to a lot of ice breaking off the Greenland ice-sheet resulting in a great many large bergs, growlers and slush ice. The weather that night was clear and calm. The Titanic had received several cautionary reports from other vessels traversing the area but the Master of the Titanic, White Stars most senior Master  62 year old Edward John Smith, ignored all warnings of the conditions and continued “on his way” at 22 knots. There were a number of senior Company executives on board as well as Harland & Wolf guarantee engineers so it is most probable that apart from the Master being somewhat pompous he was encouraged to maintain full speed despite the risks.

The vessel was four days out from Cobh (Ireland) – its last port - and no emergency drills had been conducted at all during that period.

No engineers or engine room staff survived! The C/E kept all his staff at their posts throughout, maintaining lighting for as long as possible – that part of the film showing the lights on until near the very last minutes is near correct – even if not much more is. They were the only officers to come out of this “debacle” with honour and were eventually recognised for this by the then King George V.

The Titanic cost $7.5 million to build.

Outcome of Titanic disaster:

The episode with the Titanic led to the SOLAS convention – which is still the major maritime convention today. This stipulated, amongst other things, that a vessel must have sufficient lifeboats for all passengers and crew.

Lifeboat drills to be carried out with all persons on board attending a drill.

It dictated watertight sub-divisions of passenger vessel had to be continuous up to the weather deck and that two adjacent compartments suffering flooding would not affect the stability of the vessel and it would remain afloat.

Possible Outcome of the Costa Concordia Disaster:

There are many rules and regulations in place now which should make a disaster of similar magnitude to that of Titanic near impossible to “replicate” however no matter what regulation is enacted in order to make the “world a safer place” if they are ignored or conditions are “bypassed” as would appear to be the case with Costa Concordia then such disasters will inevitably be repeated. Once the Concordia enquiry and court case are complete – and this could take a total time of two years – we must expect:

  1. Invariably more paper work and form filling: this is always what you get from an inter-government monolith like IMO!
  2. Passage planning may become mandatory.
  3. Stability problems relating to cruise ships (not necessarily trans-Atlantic vessels like QM2) could be investigated leading to more strict damage stability rules.
  4. Passenger ship compartment sub-division being re-visited and improved upon.
  5. Another look at lifeboats and their launching (an article on lifeboats will follow later in a separate feature – Ed)
  6. Lifeboat and emergency drills to be carried out prior to a passenger ship leaving any and ALL ports for all joining passengers. Any passenger who refuses to take part to be disembarked prior commencement of the voyage.
  7. Investigate simplifying lifeboat embarkation and launching (this is more the authors wish than expected from the likes of IMO but more about that in the separate article – Ed)
  8. Better and clearer route marking for passengers from cabins and public rooms to lifeboat stations.

What could and should be considered:

The disaster of Concordia has a number of similarities to the one that happened 100 years ago on Titanic.  Had the former disaster happened in cold deep water as in the case of Titanic the loss of life on Concordia could have been far greater than that of Titanic – this despite the advancement of technology. While technology can and should make the world a better place for humans; technology and regulation do not work as they should if incompetent personnel are put in positions of command. There are too many such people in our society who may gain these positions by questionable means. I have advocated for many years that senior officers – i.e. Masters, Chief Engineers, Chief Officers and Second Engineers should not qualify for these positions without undergoing a week or two week long “stress under command” assessment course. Such courses will quickly determine how the person will react under difficult situations. Such a course should not be a paper exercise: it should be invigilated and observed at all stages and if deficiencies cannot be corrected then that person should not be considered for a senior officer position – irrespective of the license he has tried to achieve.

In both the Titanic and the Costa Concordia disasters the “command and control” were non-existent: leading to panic and chaos. If people – not associated with the business i.e. general passengers – see someone taking control and showing confidence in what they are doing then panic disappears and things will start “coming together” because people in general respond well to such actions.
With Ocean going vessels there is a huge investment in both hardware and people that the cost of such courses and assessment are trivial compared to what is at stake. Ship owners throughout the centuries have been some of the most reluctant employers to invest so the likelihood of anything serious being done in this field is virtually nil! Will such disasters occur in the future? Unfortunately yes because it is unlikely that something constructive will be done in the industry to improve matters – only more paperwork can be expected when IMO is involved in the decision making.

Footnote:

At least the Master of the Titanic did the honourable thing and went down with his ship. The “comedian” commanding the Costa Concordia has done nothing but make Italy the laughing stock of the western world. This is undeserved as some of the best Masters the author has ever sailed with have been Italian. The least Schettino could have done was to have gone down with his vessel.

IAN HALL