Nautie Friends Ask :: What are your thoughts on the Costa Concordia?

I've gotten several e-mails asking me what I think about the Costa Concordia (the cruise ship that was wrecked off the coast of Italy) and I must admit I'm hesitent to let my thoughts slip into the pipes of the interwebz however; I'm going to go ahead and let them slip (and I'm going to try not to swear).  When I departed La Spezia, Italy I actually saw the Costa Concordia on our electronic display - and I received their distress message.  Regardless of how I feel about the actions leading up to the casualty I have to remind myself that this incident has changed peoples lives.  For some, it will be the worst day of their lives.  I can't begin to imagine the terror experienced.

That being said, here's what I think:  It never should have happened.....but the crew did an amazing job. 

Look, the shipping industry is tricky - and bad things happens.....truly shitty, messed up things happen.  Straight up.  There you have it. 

Before I go any further I also have to say that I work on tankers - and have very little experience on other types of vessels.  The tanker trade and the cruise ship industry are two very different things.  I can't speak much about regulations governing cruise ships or on what constitutes standard operating procedures.

I've been reading about the Costa Concordia as much as possible - and just about everything I've read sounds like drivel.  I think it's very important to note that the vast majority of what we are reading is straight up speculation.  We're also reading a lot of commentary and data from outside sources.  It wasn't more than a day or two ago when we all believed the root of the incident was an explosion in the engine room.  I read an entire article about 'harmonic interference' and its ability to cause explosions.  We actually discussed this at the mess deck table - looking at each other we all said, 'have you ever heard of harmonic interference?  no?  me neither...'. 

Tankers are incredibly regulated.  This ship could honestly use an administrative assitant.  We do an insane amount of paperwork.  Just about every move we make is documented.  If I want to change a light bulb in one of my navigation lights I need to fill out reports - I need to have the Chief Mate and the Chief Engineer sign off on my work permits - I need to have electrical components tagged out by the First Assistant Engineer.  The voyage plans that I generate receive incredibly intense scrutiny from third party inspectors - most of these inspectors are dispatched by an oil major like BP.  I have requirements for position fixing intervals - when within 3nm of land I need to plot my position on the chart every 6 minutes - my positions can not be just electronic (i.e. GPS) - they must be a mixture (for example radar ranges and bearings, visual bearings, etc.).  It makes me wonder how much regulation a cruise ship faces and what their inspection process looks like. 

A tanker would never think of giving an island a 'salute'.  I've never even heard of such a thing.  A drive by?  Really?  I can just see myself sitting at my favorite beach on the Big Island and watching an oil tanker cruise by 200 meters off the shoreline.  Would I be thinking, 'Cool!  He just gave us a salute!'?  Chances are I'd think it was a big 'ole f-u more than a salute.

If I was the Captain of a tanker and I submitted a voyage plan for a 'salute' to the office for approval I'd expect to be fired.  Seriously.  I would hope that my company would take one look at a plan like that and think 'Megan the NautieCaptain clearly lacks sound judgement'.  To read that the company had previously approved such a plan is disheartening.  Truly disheartening.  We can all jump up and down and say that the Captain is a crack pot but, was he really?  He simply did something that had already been done - had already been done with the blessing of the company!  Which makes me think that maybe some checks and balances need to be established between cruise ships and their shore side managers to ensure that sound decisions are being made.

As to the Captains actions during the evolution to abandon ship who can truly say?  What I do know is this - don't discredit the effects of shock.  As a mariner you can only hope that when an emergency strikes you will fall back on your training.  You hope that your experience will lead you to make sound decisions.  You hope that your fellow officers and crew can do the same. 

When I read of the Captain leaving the vessel early (as in before many of the passengers) I didn't immediately think it was terrible.  What I would have liked to see was an alternate location set up as 'command headquarters'.  I don't think it's one hundred percent necessary for the Captain to remain on the bridge until the very last minute.  I do think it's necessary for the Captain to gather drawings of the ship, emergency plans, log books, hand held VHF radios - anything that could possibly be used to assist in search and rescue operations - and set up a centralized location to be used for organizing and directing emergency response.  I think that if the Captain could have established himself as the on scene coordinator (even if not on the vessel) he would have maintained his effectiveness in a time of crisis. 

I think that the ships crew did an amazing job.  There were 3,000 passengers and 1,000 crew.  The vessel experienced only a 1 or 2 % loss of life.  I in no way mean to undermine the sadness of the lives lost.  I think about how I myself would have managed the situation if aboard and can't even imagine.  Three thousand scared, frantic, disoriented humans is no joke.  The mob mentality alone is incredibly frightening.  I think of my current situation - I'm aboard a vessel with 20 crew members - what would it look like if we were all responsible for 3 people during an emergency?  While I may be able to direct three people would a messman be able to?  Now, instead of getting 20 people into a lifeboat we need to get 80 people into a lifeboat.  Again, I think the ships crew did an amazing job.

I've never taken a cruise.  It is just about the lowest thing on my list of things I'd like to do.  Do you know what you are when you go on a cruise?  Human cargo.  If a tanker ran aground and lost integrity of the hull a 1 or 2 % loss of cargo would be considered a miracle.  Lives lost can never be considered a miracle. 

Sometimes, when I'm on the bridge at night I play the 'what if' game.  What would I do if someone fell overboard right now?  What would I do if there was a fire right now?  What would I do if we had a collision right now?  I can only hope and pray that I never experience these things however; I also hope and pray that if I do experience these things I can respond efficiently and effectively.

My heart goes out to the crew of the Costa Concordia.  I hope that someone has said thank you to them in the last few days and, I hope that they are being treated like the heroes they are.