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by Kevin Griffin of our London office writing in cybercruises.com
At about 7 pm on Friday, the 13th of January, Costa Cruises’ 3,800-berth Costa Concordia departed from Civitavecchia, bound for her home port of Savona with 4,234 persons on board, including about 1,000 crew. Within a couple of hours, their cruise would be over.
Although the Italian Coast Guard said the first alarm was sounded at about 10:30 pm, passengers had reported that the ship had “grounded” during their dinner. An announcement was made of some sort of electrical or power failure, but in the end, for whatever reason, the ship struck rocks and ended up with a 160-foot gash on her port side below the waterline.
The Fincantieri-built, Registro Italiano Navale-classed Costa Concordia had a good record, having passed numerous port state control inspections with no deficiencies, except for one incident in 2008 when she sustained bow damage after hitting a berth at Palermo. So, rather than look at the ship’s evacuation and all its human interest stories, let’s have a look at just some of the other information that has come to light.
Automatic Information System Vessel Traffic records released by Turkish Maritime News web site Denizhaber.com show that the ship seems to have followed an unusual route. After leaving Civitavecchia she took the usual route and a course that would have taken her into deep water between the island of Giglio and the Tuscan mainland.
However, about 7 to 8 nautical miles from that channel she made a course alteration of about 20 degrees, turning to port, on a heading that would have brought her straight onto Giglio Island. She then apparently passed between two rocks to the east of Giglio. The Turkish site thus asks why such a large ship would pass between two rocks when she could have been in deeper water. Why was the ship there and was it due to a mechanical failure?
There was also some question about the ship having been on autopilot not long after having left Civitavecchia, when manual control might have been more appropriate that close to land. Whatever the case, those positions and courses have all been recorded and the ship’s black box has been recovered so all of this will become part of the enquiry.
Meanwhile, from Marine Traffic we have the following:
20:21 – 15.7 knots, heading 278 – the course that led straight to Giglio
20:29 – 15.4 knots, heading 278
20:33 – 15.4 knots, heading 276
20:37 – 15.3 knots, heading 285 – start of a turn away from the island, now ±1 mile ahead?
20:53 – 2.9 knots, heading 351 – now less than 500m from the shore
20:58 – 1.4 knots, heading 007
21:01 – 1.1 knots, heading 013
The change of course and drop in speed between 20:37 and 20:53 would seen to identify the moments of crisis.
After she was holed, the ship developed a list of about 20 degrees to starboard but she would ultimately capsize before morning. Passengers reported panic on the vessel but fortunately she was in shallow water and as well as those that got away in the lifeboats, which were difficult to launch because of the vessel’s list, a number were able to swim the short distance to the island of Giglio.
It was among those jumping into the water that the first three casualties were reported, however. And because of the 20 degree list, not all the lifeboats could be launched, so others had to be rescued by helicopter.
A major point in the investigation that will follow will undoubtedly be the survivability of the ship, particularly her stability. How quickly she lost stability and why she settled away from the damage to the hull will be areas for investigation.
There are many questions to be answered. Why was she three or four nautical miles off course in the first place? Why did she hit a rock or rocks that caused such critical damage to her hull? Why did she settle on the side opposite the damage?
Costa generally has a good safety record, having lost two ships in the past fifty years. In 1961, Bianca C burned and sank at Grenada and in 1984 Columbus C sank in the port of Cadiz after ramming the breakwater there. As these losses occurred before Costa became part of Carnival Corporation, it is only Carnival’s second ship loss after the sail-assisted cruise ship Wind Song was abandoned in French Polynesia in 2002 after an engine room fire, in that case without loss of life.
One other question that arises, and this does not apply just to Costa is why emergency drills are only required “within twenty-four hours of sailing” instead of before sailing. Is this some sort of loophole for ferries? Huge cruise ships carrying 4,000 souls are not ferries and there will probably be a change here as well, especially in view of the confusion that seems to have existed on board Costa Concordia. This cruise had three embarkation ports, at Savona, Marseilles and Civitavecchia, and I am pretty willing to bet that passengers boarding at each of these port will be drilled before dinner in future.
It was also the second grounding in a week for an Italian operator, as MSC Poesia went aground off Grand Bahama Island on January 8, but was freed by four tugs shortly thereafter.
Meanwhile police in Porto Santo Stefano detained the Costa Concordia’s Captain Francesco Schettino and first officer Ciro Ambrosio on Saturday. Although the captain maintains he was the last to leave the ship, Italian media reports have said he was ashore around 11:40 pm on Friday while the last passengers were not evacuated until 6 am on Saturday. Prosecutors are said to be investigating possible charges of multiple manslaughter and abandoning ship while passengers were still in danger.
Costa Cruises issued an official statement last night, which said in part“While the investigation is ongoing, preliminary indications are that there may have been significant human error on the part of the ship’s Master, Captain Francesco Schettino, which resulted in these grave consequences.”