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Our Maritime Blog

Title: Costa Concordia Disaster-What Went Wrong

Author: Paul M. Hoffman

Category: Costa Concordia Disaster

Date: 2012-01-24

The wreck of the Costa Concordia brings into sharp focus the inherent unsafe practices of modern cruise ship companies. It may shock some to learn that a mega-liner like the Costa Concordia or any of the ships operated by NCL, RCCL, Celebrity, Carnival, MSC, SilverSea and so forth have very few actual sailors on board. Lifeboats are captained by employees with other jobs on the ship, such as waiters or assistant engineers.
Lifeboat drills consist of manning one lifeboat while the ship is in port on a cruise, filling it with a dozen or so employees who act as passengers, and then timing the lowering of the lifeboat into a calm sea and then raising it again. Drills are not conducted under real-life conditions and not with all the boats. This is because it would be expensive to do so and no one is making the cruise lines do it. Again, a problem with enforcement.

One reason for this is space. Modern cruise ships try to squeeze as many passenger cabins on the ships as possible. Passengers are revenue producers. Crew members are revenue suckers. The more crew, the less passengers and hence the less income. Cruise ships should be forced by law to carry sufficient crew to manage a crisis like the Concordia in an organized, safe and efficient manner, not the Costa way.

It's tragic to think that some of those who perished did so because they returned to their cabins on the wrong side of the ship at the urging of crew members, who had been ordered to give false information to the passengers. You can just imagine the terror going through their minds as they sat huddled on the bed wearing a life vest and watching the cabin slowly fill with water. Or, the Frenchman who drowned because he gave his life jacket to his elderly wife as they jumped off the vessel into those cold waters because no one told them to wait patiently for a rescue boat.

Undoubtedly, Captain Schettino and/or perhaps even Costa Crociere, S.p.A., the owners of the Concordia (the degree of corporate complicity is yet to be established), conspired to keep the Italian Coast Guard from learning what had actually happened until forty minutes after the event, when it was too late to lower all the boats and the passengers were in a panic. Captain Schettino probably thought he could make Giglio Harbor and then get the passengers off without the world learning that he had holed the ship on a reef. His plan was to try and sail back and thus passengers were told that there was only a blackout and everything was fine. However, the vessel listed too much, probably due to uneven ballast, the distance to travel was too far, and the plan failed.

Captain Schettino gambled with the lives of his passengers because it was more important to him to save his pride than to save lives. There is no other logical explanation as to why the distress call was delayed 40 minutes and passengers given false information on the mortal wound the vessel had suffered. Whether the owners participated in this scheme, a fact they deny, remains to be seen.