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I had to get my world atlas out to identify the precise location of Giglio, the island into which the Costa Concordia crashed inadvertently during its cruise this weekend (14th January 2012)

Every week this ship, carrying three thousand passengers and 1000 crew departed from Civitavecchia, a port about twenty miles north of Rome, and made its way northward to the port of Savona and then Marseilles and then Barcelona, Palma Majorca, Cagliari and Palermo before returning to its home port. This itinerary allowed the ship to sail overnight between these places and be in a different spot every day. A number of excursions were offered at prices ranging from €50 to €99., and the price for the whole trip apparently started at about £1000 – discounted in 2012 to £465. And it may be important to say yet again, that the Costa Concordia made this trip every week.

So those with a professional interest in the state of merchant shipping will be yet again considering the dangers of operating ships with 4000 people on board, without really any well defined emergency procedures or, so it would appear, adequate controls over their construction and operation.

In 2007 the Sea Diamond carrying 1600 passengers and crew sank close to the Greek island of Santorini during a six day cruise round the Greek islands. There were many local craft on hand and all passengers and crew were evacuated with the possible loss of only two of lives. Also in 2007 a small cruise ship equipped to work in the Antarctic sank after being damaged by ice. The passengers and crew were successfully evacuated to Chile.

In November 2010 the Carnival cruise ship Carnival Splendor broke down off the Mexican coast with 4500 passengers and crew on board, losing all services including the toilets which were vacuum powered. The ship was towed back to port and an American aircraft carrier, the USS Ronald Reagan, dropped emergency supplies to it.

So what’s going on? And will people continue to patronize Carnival cruises considering they now have a better chance of being involved in a serious incident on board one of their ships than being struck by lightning, or winning the lottery.

Of course one of the problems with cruise ships is passenger expectation. If one is going to be safe on board ship, and avoid running into things or going aground you should take a course directly into deep water from one’s port of departure, and then keep many miles from the nearest land. The recommended distance is probably between five and ten miles so that, in the unlikely event of a breakdown, your engineers will have plenty of time to sort out the problem. In addition being several miles from the nearest land allows the navigators to make mistakes without the result being catastrophic. But the passengers don’t like that. They want to be so close to the shore that they can see people waving to them from the beach. So close that they can see the sunlight glinting off the glasses on the tables of the dockside tavernas. This sort of approach is adrenalin fuelling stuff, and so the navigators are generally ready to oblige.

So, when the Costa Concordia left its home port, it headed north with the intention of passing between the island of Giglio, and the Italian mainland. The channel is about five miles wide. But two miles off does not give the passengers much of a view, so doubtless the ship was churning its way along the coast, sweeping deckchairs off the beach with its wash, when it grounded on what the captain claimed was an uncharted rock. It did not have to do any of that. It could have headed straight out into the channel between Italy and Corsica, but the passengers would not have had much of a view.

The captain of the Sea Diamond similarly claimed that the reef it hit was about 100 metres from the position indicated on the chart, but this claim was rejected by the Greek authorities. Anyway 100 metres is a moderately sized ship’s length. It should have been further away from the shore than that unless it was intending to go alongside somewhere. In this case it was claimed that the crew on the bridge of the ship were watching a football match, but surely not! In the case of the Costa Concordia it looks from here as if they just miscalculated the approach.

But why did they both sink? Surely we have reached a point in ship construction that passenger ships capable of carrying thousands of people are more or less invulnerable to damage. Isn’t it about time the claims made for the Titanic – that it was unsinkable – are fulfilled for large ships – of any sort? The photographs of the Concordia show that the gash along the hull is actually out of the water as the ship lies on its side just outside the port on the island. This seems to indicate that it did not sink due to an ingress of water but due to a loss of stability, and such a suggestion is born out by the fact that passengers have said that almost immediately after the impact the ship took on a twenty degree list, making the lifeboats difficult to launch.

Of course ship construction and machinery installation is governed by the rules developed by the International Maritime Organisation (IMO) but any changes to the rules take years to enact, and are often opposed by those with partisan interests. Attending IMO meetings is apparently a little less rewarding that watching paint dry. In addition those who build and operate ships are not motivated by any moral sense. They will follow the rules precisely, and ship designers who can find flaws in the wording, to allow for financial savings, may well be rewarded.

Was this the case with the Carnival Splendor? This ship was provided with two engine rooms which was supposed to make it safer. Should there be a fire in one engine room the other would still be available to provide power to the propulsion which was electrically driven, the engines themselves operating generators. But when there was a fire in one of the engine rooms the result was a total loss of all systems. Everything stopped, including all the domestic facilities. The ship became dead in the water. The passengers began to be seasick, and one can only imagine what the problems where when the toilets stopped working under those circumstances. One should not underestimate the debilitating effects of seasickness, and had the weather been rough at least some of the 4000 odd people would have become seriously ill.

There have recently been calls for the size of bulk carriers of all sorts to be limited, because of the possible effects of a grounding or collision on the environment, and unless designers can start actually building the unsinkable cruise ship, should their size be similarly limited? Answers on a postcard please – from Giglio.

17th Jan.

Well, it just shows how wrong you can be. There I was thinking that the navigators wanted to show the passengers the coast, and actually it turns out that the Captain may have wanted to show the ship to someone on the island. News today indicates that the ship deviated from its normal course which was more or less through the middle between the mainland and the island of Giglio, and ran alongside the coast before grounding. The captain, who was in court today claimed that be had then steered the ship to a point where, rather than sinking into deep water, it would remain at least partially above the water.

Unfortunately rather than the three deaths initially confirmed as darkness has fallen over the site it has been stated that there are still 29 people missing, and further bodies have been discovered. It also seems that fuel may be leaking from the tanks to the surface, so there is action being taken to stem the flow and a salvage company is considering further action.

Things also don't seem to have gone well during the evacuation, although with more than 4000 people to rescue things can't have gone too badly. However, an Englishman on the radio today said that late in the evening there was a tannoy which told everybody not to worry, there had been a generator failure, but never-the-less people began to assemble on the upper decks as the ship slowed down and finally came to a stop.

No-one has actually said whether there was an emergency announcement and there have been no reports of a mayday being sent using any form or radio or telephone system. But early on it was rumoured that the captain had left the ship by lifeboat at about 1.30 am while others did not manage to get off until 4.30 am. This by the way seems to indicate that the ship took a lot longer to end up horizontal and mainly submerged than first reports indicated, and could well be why nearly everyone got off.

20th January

Has no-one but me noticed that there is a bloody great rock sticking out of the hull of the Costa Concordia? Perhaps it was the top of the pinnacle which they had the bad luck to hit. This might be born out by the fact that actually this was not the first time the Costa Concordia had passed very close to Giglio. Lloyds List say that they have assessed AIS data (I didn’t know this could be done) and have determined that in August 2011 the ship passed the island at a similar distance, apparently in celebration of some event on the island. The course appears to have been exactly the same, so maybe the ship was lighter in the water, or the tide higher. The deviation in August had been authorized by Costa. Someone soon is going to start asking about passage plans.

Unfortunately although searches are still going on in a limited way, there are still twenty-one people missing and eleven confirmed deaths.

Meanwhile the revelations in the Italian press go on. Now, apparently, the coastguard were calling the ship and asking what was wrong, because they were receiving calls from concerned relatives, who had themselves been receiving calls from passengers. The response was apparently that there had been a generator failure, and that there was nothing seriously wrong. This was the message also being relayed to the passengers – even though by this time the ship had been holed.

Also there have been transcripts broadcast of an argument between the captain and a senior coastguard official, which suggest that the captain was speaking from the shore while there were still hundreds of people on the ship. The official said “Get the f**k back on board”. There have been t-shirts manufactured with the phrase on the front. The captain later said that he accidentally fell into a lifeboat!

And the most extraordinary revelation concerns a Moldovan girl who has appeared on their TV saying that the captain was a hero and that his actions had saved many lives. Of course this has resulted in people asking who the hell she is, and an Italian investigative journalist has said that she was not on the passenger list, but that she had dined with the captain in one of the restaurants, and that much wine had been consumed.

25th January

This event is beginning to drop out of the media spotlight, but there are a few articles here and there, as other crew members from the Costa Concordia are interviewed by the investigators from the Italian court. In addition further bodies have been found so there are now sixteen people confirmed dead, but they seem to be sticking with the twenty missing, suggesting that there were unregistered people on board.

The Moldovan lady, reported as having had dinner with the captain, was apparently a dancer, but the reports I have read have not said whether she was a dancer on the ship.

The captain has claimed that the company encouraged him in the past to make close approaches to land in order to entertain the passengers, and this seems pretty likely as I suggested in my original article. The third mate has been interviewed and he has suggested that the captain may have been distracted by the presence of guests on the bridge, who included the head waiter, who cam e from the island. The captain has apparently said that he turned too late, and that he was do the job by eye, and so the ship hit the rock which seems to have been sticking out of the sea, and to have been featured on tourist maps, never mind charts.

One can therefore imagine the captain doing the daredevil approach, requiring him to turn away at the last moment, and that he had succeed in doing this in the past. So as he turned away the ship grazed the rock, seemingly breaking a bit off, which is still visible sticking out of the side. The damage resulted in seawater leaking into the engine room, or maybe one of the engine rooms. And in my view the water in the engine room may have provided the free surface effect which resulted in the ship listing and then turning on its side. It would probably have ended up upside down had it not been in shallow water.

More on this story later!!

3rd February 2012

On 2nd February the Italian authorities interviewed the Moldovan dancer Domnica Cemortan (25) - or should it be (25!), who as it turned out was on the bridge of the Costa Concordia, as a guest of the Captain, when it ran aground on the edge of the island of Giglio. According to the press who have reported on this event, she has said that she was "in love" with Captain Schettino (52) or (52!!). Without wanting in any way to suggest that the captain is anything less that a babe magnet, in my experience young east european ladies, are very attentive and charming to we older west european men when the opportunity occurs.

The relationship between Domnica and the captain appears to have been validated by the rescue divers, who are reported top have found "items of clothing and lingerie" in the captain's cabin. Well, what do you know?

Meanwhile the search for further bodies has been terminated due to possible risks to the divers, which is not surprising. It is difficult enough to find your way around a ferry, brightly lighted and the right way up, never mind finding one's way around 100,000 tonne cruise liner on its side, under water and in  the dark. Currently the bodies of 17 people have been found, and there are a further 15 people missing.

12th April

By now the fuel has been pumped out of the ship, the bodies of all the missing people except fot two have been recovered, and the plans are being made to take the hull away. According to the media there have been a number of plans submitted and the one which is likely to be accepted is that which takes the ship away in one piece. The preparation for it may take up to a yea, so the story will not be over until this time next year.

Vic Gibson



Deepwater Horizon -The President's Report
Deepwater Horizon - The Progess of the Event

The KULLUK Grounding
The Costa Concordia Report
The Costa Concordia Grounding
The Elgin Gas Leak
The Loss of the Normand Rough
The Bourbon Dolphin Accident
The Loss of the Stevns Power
Another Marine Disaster
Something About the P36
The Cormorant Alpha Accident
The Ocean Ranger Disaster
The Loss of the Ocean Express

The Life of the Oil Mariner
Offshore Technology and the Kursk
The Sovereign Explorer and the Black Marlin

Safety Case and SEMS
Practical Safety Case Development
Preventing Fires and Explosions Offshore
The ALARP Demonstration
PFEER, DCR and Verification
PFEER and the Dacon Scoop
Human Error and Heavy Weather Damage
Lifeboats & Offshore Installations
More about PFEER
The Offshore Safety Regime - Fit for the Next Decade
The Safety Case and its Future
Collision Risk Management
Shuttle Tanker Collisions
A Good Prospect of Recovery

The History of the UT 704
The Peterhead Connection
Goodbye Kiss
Uses for New Ships
Supporting Deepwater Drilling
Jack-up Moving - An Overview
Seismic Surveying
Breaking the Ice
Tank Cleaning and the Environment
More about Mud Tank Cleaning
Tank Cleaning in 2004
Glossary of Terms

An Unusual Investigation
Gaia and Oil Pollution
The True Price of Oil
Icebergs and Anchor-Handlers
Atlantic SOS
The Greatest Influence
How It Used to Be
Homemade Pizza
Goodbye Far Turbot
The Ship Manager
Running Aground
A Cook's Tale
Navigating the Channel
The Captain's Letter

The Sealaunch Project
Ghost Ships of Hartlepool
Beam Him Up Scotty
The Bilbao OSV Conference