I was surprised to learn of the sinking of a modern cruise ship last weekend, not because it is the second Costa ship to sink in three years, but because with all of today’s modern technology, one man can control a ship containing over 4,000 people. I am not going to crucify Captain Francesco Schettino, because he has done them to himself, but I am going to criticize his actions. First, however, I would like to know how a large cruise line, like Carnival, cannot know what its ships are doing. There have been an number of charges and accusations thrown around since the ship’s grounding last weekend. There are a number of unknowns, but the reason I waited a week to give my opinion was because I knew more information would come out as the week progressed, and I was correct. What we have learned this past week is even more disturbing than what was presented last weekend.
By now we have all heard the audio from the the ship’s captain refusing to reboard his ship. He is certainly no hero like the Captain of the Andrea Doria, in fact, he is the opposite. He is a coward. He did not “slip in to a lifeboat” as he suggests. Most likely he abandoned the sinking ship once he realized it was sinking. He did so without giving orders to his officers or addressing the passengers, in fact, many passengers had no idea of the danger the ship was in. The audio between the Captain and the Italian Coast Guard is disturbing. The audio portrays a coward refusing to return to his sinking ship, then finally lying to the Coast Guard saying that the ship had sunk, and that there was no ship to return to. Abandoning his post will cost him his job, the cruise line will not provide him with legal representation, but he is also responsible for the twelve deaths.
Interestingly, the Captain claimed this past week that the vessel had taken a similar route in August 2011 and not hit any reef. The evidence now suggests that he was correct. Carnival claims the ship never came within 500 yards of shore, but the above map indicates that is not correct. The August 2011 route (in blue) shows the ship did come very close to shore twice. The January 13th route (in red) indicates they followed much the same route. This map shows how close to diaster the Costa Concordia was in August 2011, perhaps within feet of the very same rock now embedded in the side of the ship. How can this happen? Why would Carnival lie? Well, it seems that a ship’s Captain has more control over the route that one might think. With today’s technology, the Carnival should know where its ships are at all times, and should, if necessary, be able to stop a ship remotely if it begins to deviate from the safest possible route.
The ship’s captain has been called a hero for brining the ship closer to shore, however, by keeping the ship moving after the collision, water only poured in faster. If they had immediately stopped the ship and began to evacuate, the situation coud have turned out differently and the Captain may have received accolades for his quick actions. Instead, he opted to ignore the ships damage and abandon the ship when it was clear what was happening.
This incident has revealed weaknesses in the cruise industry. Ones that need to be addressed immediately. At least twelve people have died so that a captain and crew can show off their ship to friends or family on shore. Where is the accountability? The entire bridge crew and Carnival Cruise Line executives should be held responsible for this incident as well.
So, how safe is cruising? Well, I would not cancel my summer cruse just yet. Incidents aboard today’s cruise liners are very rare and, for the most part, cruising is very safe. The sinking of the Costa Concordia, however, should be a wake-up call to the cruise lines themselves. Clearly, things need to change to ensure one man cannot make such a disastrous decision again.
Rescue operations continue amid dangerous movements of the ship. Rescue crews have worked around the clock to trek through the capsized vessel in search of those still missing. As the ship continues to settle, it is unclear how much longer these rescue operations will continue as the ship becomes more dangerous.
Below is a slideshow of images from the Costa Concordia’s grounding. Note the rock embedded in the ships hull.