A lot of things can happen to a ship after it has departed from a seaport and left to travel against the waves of the ocean on its own. This is where the purpose of maritime safety and risk management comes in. Its purpose is to educate officers and crew members of a ship on how to react to certain risks, or in the worst case scenario a certain crisis. In general, the objective of a maritime safety and risk management is to ensure that the current maritime risk does not escalate into a crisis, and if it already did, mitigate the probable effects of the crisis. Maritime hazard and crisis mitigation are often focused on the minimization of the loss of lives, the protection of the safety of the onboard crews and passengers, the protection of the integrity of the environment in an event of a shipwreck, and if at all possible, the salvage of the ship, especially the damage it sustained from an incident was still deemed within economically repairable standards. The objective of this paper is to discuss the different aspects of maritime safety and risk management in relation to the Costa Concordia disaster that happened in Isola del Giglio, Tuscany on January 13, 2012, focusing on how such events can be prevented in the future, what mistakes and or judgment errors have been committed, their respective consequences, how different individuals and or agencies can properly evaluate the events and factors that contributed to the outcome of the Costa Concordia maritime disaster.
The Costa Concordia used to be deemed as one of the most luxurious and biggest cruise ships in its time. It was a Concordia class cruise ship whose construction started in 2004 with a total construction project price tag of roughly 570 million USD. One thing that is common among this ship and other Concordia class cruise ships is that they are managed and operated by the two subsidiaries of Carnival Corporation and PLC namely: Costa Cruises and Carnival Cruise Lines . Cruise ship operations were conducted using the Costa Concordia from 2005 until 2012, after sustaining an irreparable gash of 50 meters on the port side of its hull.
The relatively long gash on the hull caused the flooding of the engine room and other sections of the ship containing major electrical components, which led to the loss of power. Fortunately, the luxury cruise ship had an on-board electric generator, which the officers used to keep power available across the upper decks, where for the first few minutes after the initial crash, it was business as usual, although reports suggest that some passengers panicked after hearing a loud crashing or banging sound .
The cause of the large, irreparable, and catastrophic damage on the hull was the ship’s contact with a large reef while it was sailing in one of the shallow portions off of Isola Del Gigilo in Tuscany, Italy. The ship’s captain was Francesco Schettino. Onboard the ship when the ship struck the large reef were some 4,252 passengers , 3,206 of which were client passengers while 1,023 were crew and personnel employed by the cruise line operators . After the rescue operations were officially stopped by the authorities, 32 passengers were confirmed dead, one of which were still missing and had been considered deceased, 1 salvage member dead, and some 64 passengers injured.
The Costa Concordia Disaster
It was an ordinary sunny cruise day on January 13, 2012. The Costa Concordia was, at that time, on its first leg of its schedule cruise course around the Mediterranean Sea, when it hit a large protruded portion of a reef in one of the shallow portions off of Isola Del Gigilo, while it was conducting an unofficial near shoreline salute to the local islanders. By unofficial, we mean that the companies responsible for the operation of the cruise line were not made aware by the captain nor by any other officers aboard the ship about the near shore salute and the fact that it would be done in shallow and rocky portions of the water.
A sail-by or a near-shore salute is a customary practice that can be traced back to ancient times, performed by the crews, the passengers, for the natives of the island, or in some cases, for the passengers’ and crew members’ families. Sail-by salutes are a common practice in countries around the Mediterranean Sea . Most cruise line operators based in the United States and Europe recognize the fact that some ship officers and captains perform the customary maritime practice whether it is approved by the cruise companies and operators or not .
In this case, the captain of the Costa Concordia, Francesco Schettino, guided by his own intentions, did not seek approval from the cruise line operators governing Costa Concordia when he ordered the rest of the crew members on the deck to perform a sail-by salute routine. The capsizing of the Costa Concordia is currently considered as one of the biggest modern maritime disasters that may be associated with a sail-by routine. It remains a controversy whether it was really the captain’s decision, together with all the officers and superiors who collaborated with him, to perform a sail-by salute that caused the accident.
But as far as the Costa Cruises’ side is concerned, one of the operators of Costa Concordia, chief executive Pier Luigi Foschi stated that the owners and operators of the ship are often not aware of the condition of the waters and other factors when the ship crews perform such a procedure, including “unsafe practices involving ships coming close to shore to give tourists a better view” but defended the routine procedure before the Italian parliamentary committee during one of the inquiries suggesting that not all sail-by salutes happen without cruise line approval and that they recognize the importance and impact of such maneuvers—they, the cruise line operators, even call them tourist navigations that enriches the cruise quality and product. In the case of the Costa Concordia however, the sail-by salute was conducted without the due approval of the cruise operators.
Following the Costa Concordia incident that killed a small but significant number of people, some members of the Italian parliament suggested that luxury cruise ships be banned from doing dangerous sail-by salutes or any shipping activity that exposes them to portions of the sea near islands and or shorelines, or any delicate areas that can cause another shipping industry catastrophe .
Some key personalities in the maritime safety and risk management industry however presented their own arguments suggesting that ship captains and crews should not be totally banned from conducting such long-time traditions—the sail-by salute, and that authorities should divert their focus on stricter regulations and control mechanisms for such procedures so as not to subject the ships and its passengers, who frequently number in thousands, to risky situations.
There is currently no available tool that maritime authorities can use to regulate this particular issue since as mentioned earlier, most sail-by salute and other risky tourism navigation procedures occur without the informed consent of the ship owners and cruise line operators. However, thanks to the lessons learned from the Costa Concordia incident, there are methods that call form reform that policy makers may undertake in order to minimize, if not totally eradicate, the occurrence of accidents related to undocumented sail-by procedures as in the case of the Costa Concordia and its captain.
Another factor that may have caused the incident was the Captain’s decision to turn off the on-board alarm system which was a built-in feature of the ship’s computer navigation system. The alarm gets activated when the ship sensors sense that the ship is sailing in shallow and often, rocky waters. The captain, during the sail-by procedure turned off this alarm saying that he already navigated through that portion of the water near the coastline three to four times and that he already knew the landscape of the seabed there.
Evidently, he did not. In crew interviews following the incident, he admitted that he committed a major and fatal judgment error that led to the loss of lives . When the ship was struck by the protruded rock from a large reef, reports suggest that the ship was roughly 300 meters away from the shore, which meant that it was indeed in very close proximity to the shore, especially when we consider that the precise length of the Costa Concordia was 290.20 meters long. There is really nothing that the maritime safety and risk management industry could do to stop this type of incidents, if indeed this was really the sole cause of the accident, simply because it was caused by a human judgment error, which the captain admitted he did.
It would be impractical for policy makers to impose a protocol that would remove the captain and ship controller’s privilege to manually override some of the computer and mechanical controls and features of the ship as doing so may also lead to disasters in the future in case a computer or a mechanical malfunction occurs . In these situations, there is nothing more than the judgment and the vigilance of the crew, and especially the captain and senior officers, that can dictate the safety of the voyage. In this case however, the captain of the Costa Concordia failed to fulfill his duty in ensuring the safety of the ship and her passengers and crews.
It has been reported that aside from the two possible causes of the accidents described above, there were other wrong decisions and or errors that the captain of the Costa Concordia committed. Firstly, despite knowing the extent of the damages the ship sustained from the reef crash as reported by his officers on the bridge, Captain Francesco Schettino still attempted to resume the original course. There were most likely two things that ringed in the captain’s head upon hearing the reports from his crew about the ship damage.
They could either attempt to bring back the ship to the shore, which is the more safe option, and continue with the planned cruise operations once all necessary repairs are completed or they could attempt to resume the original course and pretend as if the reef impact did not cause any significant and irreparable damage to the ship.
It turned out that the captain of the ship chose the latter option. Instead of choosing the more surefire option to take the Costa Concordia and her passengers to safety considering the proximity of their then current location to an Italian port, the captain decided to continue with the operations. There were even reports suggesting that the captain ordered the crew members to urge the passengers back to their cabins and to suggest that everything is under control when it clearly is not. It was not until the ship leaned towards its port side that captain Schettino decided to cancel the trip, make a distress call, and make a U-turn towards the nearest port.
After the U-turn, the port side-leaning ship leaned towards the starboard side by some 20 degrees. The ship movement, which evidently was abnormal and could be associated with the recent shock which was apparently felt by all officers and passengers across all decks, caused every passenger in the ship to panic despite the crews repetitive statements suggesting everything is under control. Normally, passenger ships, which well includes cruise ships, that are under distress should be able to provide and launch survival crafts that would be sufficient for the total number of passengers aboard, within a period of 30 minutes, and not longer, from the time the abandon-ship order from the captain has been given, as per the requirements of the International Maritime Organization .
In the case of the Costa Concordia disaster however, it took the officers and crews way more than 30 minutes before they could fully evacuate all passengers out of the ship and into the survival crafts. Costa Concordia’s operators were signatories to two International Maritime Organization (IMO) requirements: the first being the conduction of the “musters of the passengers” within 24 hours after the ship’s departure or after embarking into the ship which the Costa Concordia’s crews successfully complied with and the second being the provision of survival crafts for all passengers aboard including the crews within a period of 30 minutes after the abandon ship order was given, which the Costa Concordia failed to achieve.
In May of 2012, the IMO conducted a Maritime Safety Committee meeting, its 90th session, which focused on the discussion of ship safety recommendations following the numerous accidents that recently happened, including the Costa Concordia disaster. As mentioned, the recommendations included stricter policies on providing survival drills and emergency practices in case of emergencies; the provision of adequate lifeboats; the earlier required schedule for carrying out the muster for embarking passengers which would now be done prior to the schedule departure; and the “limitation of access to the bridge to those with operational or operationally related functions, during any period of restricted maneuvering or while maneuvering in conditions that the master or company bridge procedures/policy deems to require increased vigilance (e.g. arrival, departure from port, heavy traffic, poor visibility; and ensuring that the ship’s voyage plan has taken into account IMO’s Guidelines for voyage planning, and if appropriate, Guidelines on Voyage planning for passenger ships operating in remote areas .
According to reports, a girl, who identified herself as the Captain of the Costa Concordia’s lover, was present on the bridge when the cruise ship was struck by the large protruded rock off the coast of Isola Del Gigilo in Tuscany, Italy . The IMO MSC’s recommendation about the limitation of people who would be allowed to enter the ship’s bridge, especially during situations that require the full awareness of and total vigilance from the crews, most especially the captain, was in relation to such reports. The IMO confirmed that majority of the recommendations in that session was in consideration to the information provided to them by the Government of Italy after completing a series of investigation and inquiries regarding the Costa Concordia incident, as well as previous proposals on enhancing the safety of passenger ships and cruise lines brought to the Maritime Security Committee’s attention by the parliament of Italy and other International Maritime Organization member states, and by the proposals and recommendations of the Cruise Industry Operational Safety Review .
What happened during the Costa Concordia disaster and its ultimate outcome was a combination of factors which include but are not limited to: lackluster passenger safety protocols, failure of the ship crews to follow IMO and MSC prescribed protocols, a series of miscommunications, and wrong ethical and professional judgment errors committed by the Costa Concordia’s captain, Francesco Schettino. Investigations would point out that it was really the matter of a series of judgment errors that comprised majority of the factors that led to the luxury cruise ship’s demise. Nonetheless, the member states of the IMO and its branch, MSC have no choice but to take in the learn from the lessons taught to them by the incidents that happened in the Costa Concordia disaster, all of which were stapled in the immediate meeting by the IMO MSC following the incident which pointed stricter policies on providing survival drills and emergency practices in case of emergencies; the provision of an adequate lifeboats; the earlier required schedule for carrying out the muster for embarking passengers which would now be done prior to the scheduled departure; and the “limitation of access to the bridge to those with operational or operationally related functions, during any period of restricted maneuvering or while maneuvering in conditions that the master or company bridge procedures/policy deems to require increased vigilance (e.g. arrival, departure from port, heavy traffic, poor visibility; and ensuring that the ship’s voyage plan has taken into account IMO’s Guidelines for voyage planning, and if appropriate, Guidelines on Voyage planning for passenger ships operating in remote areas . It is encouraged that all IMO and MSC member and signatory states practice and adopt these new recommended protocols to significantly decrease the likelihood of disasters similar to what happened in the Costa Concordia incident.
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