This Article Originally Appeared in Travel Weekly – By Richard Bruce Turen
How do you check the reality of the nightmare that occurred off the shores of Isola del Giglio, a quiet island that, it is said, dips its small feet into the Tyrrhenian Sea
The diving is so good off the shores of this small island that the number of tourists who may visit is limited by regulation. They come to enjoy the fresh sea air, to envy the former seamen who dwell in the small houses that line the shoreline.
And, as Mayor Sergio Ortelli pointed out in an interview with Corriere della Sera, “Costa ships often pass close to the island.”
The locals and a few tourists were standing on the jetty where a stone tower has stood for several hundred years watching the Concordia sail by. The tower was built to spot pirate ships approaching from the open sea.
Down below the jetty, in the waters that lap against the shoreline, the pristine waters are said to be among Italy’s finest dive sites. They are enhanced by the presence of two or three ship wrecks down below the water line. Perhaps their captains did not have the benefit of computerized charts or the electronics of a modern ocean liner launched only five years ago,
But then it all went wrong and our hearts grieve for the victims, both civilian and corporate. This is a tragedy not soon forgotten and we will all be changed by the fate of the Costa Concordia.
I was awakened in the middle of the night to be told that CNN was reporting that a luxury ship had gone down. I have clients sailing such ships in every corner of the world and I could not fathom what had happened.
As they always do, the media reported it was a “luxury cruise ship. The thought of one percenters hanging on for dear life is imagery the reporters on television news shows cannot ignore. There is nothing to be gained from saying that this was a cruise for mostly middle class ordinary people on vacation.
I do not know what possessed Captain Schettino to get so close to the shoreline. I do know that he is not the first captain to try to be a good ambassador of his line, his crew, and his flag. Whatever the courts determine, Captain Schettino was not out on a joy ride. He was trying to be accommodating and he made some dreadful errors.
Was he trying to do a “cruise by” so the Concordia’s Head Waiter could wave to his family ashore. Was he trying to say hello to a former Costa Admiral who lives on the island.
Or was this done for the benefit of the mayor, who had sent thanks to the line previously for the Captain’s efforts to entertain Giglio’s tourists.
I have been on ships where Captains, against company rules, have gotten extremely close to islands off the navigation routes. The last time it happened some folks in one of the upper suites had asked our Captain to get “as close to Stromboli as possible.”
Years earlier, I worked for a cruise line whose Captain ran one of our ships aground sailing out of Acapulco. He had wanted to get close to land to show his wife, who was cruising with him, the Acapulco Cliff Divers. No loss of life but that one cost many millions to repair, not to mention several weeks of lost revenue.
Captain Schettino came to Costa Crociere in 2002 as, ironically, a Safety Officer. And he did what Captains do. It may have something to do with ego. When you have a Ferrari you want to show it to your friends. You want to show them what you can do with such a marvel of machinery. What must go through the mind of a Captain in charge of a $400,000,000 cruise liner? Is it really unexpected that he would want to demonstrate his ability to maneuver this huge vessel? As the London Telegraph reported, the local prosecutor, Franco Verusio from nearby Grosseto, is claiming that “there was someone in particular that he wanted to signal”.
I won’t speculate on the facts. It is far too early to know and, quite frankly, the grief for those who died and for our industry is still too raw to lay blame.
The initial reaction of agents I’ve spoken to is muted. Few if any cancellations are being reported as this is written. Carnival Corporations stock may have taken a hit but the huge fleet’s guests are not abandoning the company or its outstanding inventory of spectacular vessels. Agents are saying that there are questions from clients about the relative safety of large ships and the manner in which the Costa crew is being portrayed as poorly prepared, hapless, in over their heads, journeymen.
We are on the brink of a possible ecological disaster that could do for Costa, what the explosions in the Gulf did for B P. Already, as the ship heaves and moves in seeming death throes, attention is focused on its full load of heavy fuel loaded the day before the accident as she docked in Civitavecchia.
But even without evidence of leaking fuel, the President of Italia Nostra, Italy’s well regarded conservation organization, has proclaimed that “these monstrous floating cities pollute the scenery with their very presence.”
The fisherman of Sorrento fought the big ships successfully for ruining their fishing nets. And now the mega liners are relegated to Naples. I think we can expect the Greens in Italy to take the fight to the cruise industry. And if, indeed, the fuel can’t be extracted successfully, we may have a series of new shipping restrictions that some lines will find it difficult to swallow.
But even now, as she lies on her side, still lovely in the Tuscan moonlight, the Concordia disaster raises serious questions I suspect our industry will be addressing for at least the next decade. Are these ships too big to succeed an evacuation at sea?
There is also the question of crew training standards. Are they sufficient?
Look at the trends. The ships are getting bigger. Some carry 7,800 souls. The draft on some of these ships has been reduced so tenders are not necessary. The ships go to more and more exotic ports where evacuation and nearby medical facilities may be non-existent. And the megaships are getting taller as lines stack onboard revenue facilities higher and higher in the structure which may lead to a general decline in stability.
I am most concerned about crew training on the larger ships. The officers are well trained but what of the deck crew who play a pivotal role in an onboard emergency. Your waiter Jimmy may actually be directing your group at muster. I’d like to think Jimmy is as well trained as a Delta flight attendant. But I know he isn’t.
Then, of course, there’s this. We are recognizing (celebrate is not the right word) the 100th Anniversary of the sinking of the Titanic this year. Wouldn’t one think that in one hundred years, someone would have come up with a faster way to get people off a sinking ship? But still, the passengers aboard the Concordia had to go to their muster station and hope against hope that the assigned crew had not abandoned their stations and were familiar with the operation of the equipment to launch the lifeboats.
Our web site has been receiving requests from passengers booked on mega ships who want to know if we think they are as safe as smaller ships. If the crew knows your name will they be more effective if they have to rescue you? We are all going to be addressing that issue and the media will make certain that the Concordia does not stray far from our minds. The photos of that lovely lady lying on her side struggling to right herself while all of Italy prays for her survival is just too much for the cameras to ignore.