The wreck of the passenger liner Costa Concordia
That this vessel went up on the rocks at all took some human intervention. She had state-of-the art everything on her navigation bridge. Advanced GPS system, which interfaced with her 10- and 3-cm radars, via the main Gyro. Alarms galore: shallow water alarm, which must have been temporarily disabled; an alarm to indicate that she was off her preprogrammed route between waypoints (points along a route when a ship alters course), again conveniently disabled. When a vessel of this magnitude carrying a precious cargo goes 4 miles off course in a show of “honoring crew relatives” who lived on a nearby island, then thoughtless bravado, also known as criminal negligence, is at play.
Captain Francesco Schettino by custom, common sense and admiralty law was required to be on the bridge when steaming so close to land (at night). But according to all reports, he was entertaining himself down below, enjoying the attention of passengers in the dining areas. So up on the rocks she went, a poorly designed ship (shallow draft and top heavy) probably just barely legal in her designed stability. The owners should take as great a part of the blame as Captain Schettino for having almost no trained seaman aboard, but rather waiters and other domestic types acting as seaman when required. And from all accounts they were generally inept at lifeboat operations and assisting evacuation—no doubt more skilled at getting waiter tips.
Anyone who has sailed with professional seamen and a professional captain can’t help be disgusted by this travesty. I’ve sailed on almost every type of vessel as Navigation Officer and Chief Mate, most notably as Nav Officer on the Very Large Crude Carrier (VLCC) Ocean Wizard—1,200 feet long and 268,000 tons, with a draft (depth below the waterline) of 65 feet when fully loaded. We carried 2.5 million barrels of crude from Ras Tanura, Saudi Arabia or Mina Al Ahmadi, Kuwait. Generally, our destination was Korea (22 days at 13.5 knots) and our route required transit of the Singapore Straits, which is a tight, 50-km channel with 17 waypoints, and trust me: the master was on the bridge during these heavily trafficked and often harrowing transits. We never had a grounding, but we were boarded by pirates twice, causing some harm to crew. I made many long voyages on this ship, and the atmosphere was always strictly business. Thus, safe transits and no careless accidents.
Now, off the island of Giglio, Italy, a huge, unstable ship, 4 miles off course in poorly charted coastwise waters, alarms disabled, with a preposterous but no doubt glamorously appointed Captain (hubris, anyone?) has come to tragedy, an ugly sideways hulk on the rocks. Once the dead have been taken away and the fuel removed, maybe she can be towed to deep sea and allowed to go to Davy Jones’ locker or run up on the shipwrecking beaches in Bangladesh and turned into scrap.
By Tim Jambeck,
U.S. Merchant Marine Officer, retired