Daily Mirror writer and leading blogger John Honeywell, aka Captain Greybard, shares his thoughts on the Costa Concordia accident
It is strangely reassuring to discover that the Costa Concordia disaster was the result of “significant human error” rather than a failure of systems or equipment. If Captain Francesco Schettino did indeed take the ship close into the island of Giglio in tribute to a former colleague, or as a favour to a member of his crew, that error sounds more like utter recklessness.
Examination of the data on the ship’s black box, and an official inquiry, will eventually establish the facts and apportion blame.
What happens after that will be more important for the future of cruising and the safety of passengers. Regardless of how a ship came to hit a submerged rock with such force that it tore a huge hole in the hull and left a boulder embedded in its side, safety officials need to examine their procedures to ensure that the chaos of Concordia’s evacuation is not repeated.
Until now, lip-service has been paid to the mandatory passenger emergency drill. Allowing it to be held any time in the first 24 hours of a cruise is a nonsensical practice which must be ended. Two days after Costa Concordia went down, I was at emergency drill on board Allure of the Seas prior to leaving Fort Lauderdale. Passengers continued to talk among themselves instead of paying attention to the announcements on the video screens, and American football play-offs could be seen on adjacent TVs.
Even more importantly, the International Maritime Organisation, which is responsible for the Safety of Life At Sea legislation, must look again at the systems in place for the provision and deployment of lifeboats and rafts.
Ever since the sinking of the Titanic 100 years ago, passengers ships have carried more than enough lifeboats to accommodate everyone on board. But I have often looked at them nesting safely in their davits or being used for crew drill and wondered: could they all be lowered safely into the water in a real emergency, with the ship beginning to list?
The events of Friday night off the coast of Italy confirmed my fears. The second official statement from Costa Crociere (translated from Italian with the help of Google) confirmed that the “position of the vessel” was making it difficult to complete the rescue operation.
In the cold light of morning, we could see what the statement meant: while the majority of the 4,200 passengers and crew had been brought safely ashore, it had become impossible to use the remaining lifeboats because those on one side of the ship were almost submerged, while those on the other side were raised so far out of the water they were rendered useless.
Which probably goes some way towards explaining the reports of passengers jumping into the sea, although this is one part of the scenario about which I cannot get too alarmed. Anyone who has paid attention to the emergency drill will remember being shown the safe way to jump off the ship, because it is anticipated that it might sometimes be necessary.
As the world mourns the deaths – however many are eventually discovered – we must also be thankful that almost all the 4,200 passengers and crew on board were safely rescued.
And we must learn from the disaster; not only to reduce the risk of it ever happening again, but to make sure that if it does, we are better prepared.
Read more of the Captain’s blog on the Costa Concordia