Slipping into lifeboats

One day into my wife and I’s first vacation in 8 years, and some foolish act results in one of the latest, and largest passenger ships to partially sinks. Having work on cruise ships for four years and like most professionals mariners, I was captivated and stunned. How could have this happened?

Needless to say my wife was probably a little annoyed for my thirst of consuming what little news bit I could get from the various newscast in our “limited internet” hotel; German, English, Spanish and Fox News – yes they speak their own language on that channel.

While she sipped Mojitos, I sat slackjawed at that massive rock firmly embedded  into Costa Concordia’s hull. A gaping hole clearly visible, white tanktop peeking through, judging from the location, was firmly in engine room area. It is no wonder the ship was doomed, there is little hope to control that kind of flooding from a breach that big.

The media message was shock at first, then turned vile quickly, as Costa’s spinner, investigation leaks, fed them more and more disparaging comments about the Master of the vessel, Captain Francesco Schettino. Obviously, in  a bid to deflect as much responsibility as possible – at least in the eye of the media and its followers.

Every professional mariner these days, knows that not much gets done on a ship without the say so from shore, no matter what the competence level there appears to be. Costa / Carnival’s shameful public distancing of its ship’s master from themselves, before the Search and Rescue phase of the disaster is even over, is a clear message to all mariners that you are on your own, all the time – beware. Yet again, we are reminded why there is a shortage of people wanting to work at sea.

Obviously, there would appear to be some mistakes in judgment made by the Master, in my mind the only possible proof of this, found in the transcripts of his exchanges with what I assume was the On Scene Commander for the emergency response. The “chaos” during evacuation, the “bottle of wine”, the “slip and trip into a lifeboat”, the “mysterious blonde” etc. are all red herrings that have little proof to be accurate.

Clearly, there was a mis-judgement in the execution of their voyage plan. That in itself suggest a major failure of discipline within the Navigational watch, and the bridge team in general. Proper bridge resource management training, if done, would have given the tools to prevent this kind of mistake to occur. Of course only if the individuals on the bridge where provided with the training, or the confidence, from all levels of the company to question a poor choice. Judging from head office’s response, one would say the culture was / is one of dominate personality, right from the top. Their response, that the captain has too much power, is laughable in this day and age, and exemplify exactly this disconnected, bully mentality which has been proven to be counter-productive, and resulting in exactly this type of accidents.

Of course the Master is responsible for all that goes on, on his ship, but I could not help commenting (preaching) to my wife, whose eyes were rolling yet again, that so little attention was paid to the “Captains” of industry, when they drove their “ships” into shoals. Yesterday, I was pleasantly surprise to find just such reference, in Rupert Murdoch’s own Wall Street Journal (of all places), in the article “O Captain! My Captain!“. Michael Grey, of his usual astute observations, writes of the sobering reality that occurs to the Master of a doomed vessel, long before the facts are presented accurately, and fairly accessed.

But if Costa / Carnival are so quick to damn the man so publicly, why they did place him in charge of such a vessel. Perhaps they know that they don’t pay their crews well enough, or trained them enough – or have enough of them – to assure high quality in the first place. Perhaps their performance based bonus system, rewards risky behaviour from their crews. Maybe they (are) “slipping into a lifeboat” too.

Regardless of the actions of the Captain during or shortly after the accident, if they felt he was of little character, why don’t they decidedly step into the limelight, get on scene and show some backbone. Take charge of the situation – show leadership, and openly assist in the process; communicate with the public. Even BP to some extent, understood this with the Deepwater Horizon. As Chief Engineer, when my Second or Third does not perform adequately, I feel, and it is, my responsibility to step in and take charge – that’s how it works.

The facts may never be fully known; I understand the Voyage Data Recorder was not functioning at the time of the accident. The communication by the response authorities are woefully inadequate in this day and age – perhaps its just my Italian. The only communications from anyone in the know, are from the aforementioned Costa web page, which is carefully crafted to provide as little information. I don’t blame them necessarily either for this, if watching Fox News was any indication. The ship had barely settled on its side, when these talking heads on US national “news shows” are spouting off about the level of cash involved in lawsuits – what the hell is wrong with us?

I don’t expect much from the Italian authorities, from their history they seem to be keenly aware of various special interest groups and how they are involved in all aspect of their judicial, political and social landscape. Carnival is a major consumer of Italian shipbuilding products, and related services, such as Class and heavy equipment. The shipbuilding contracts are also attached to ship’s crewing requirements as well. I suppose there will be little appetite to truly find the root cause of the disaster, and even less motivation to fix it. It sells more papers to publicly skewer one man, sweep it under the rug asap, than to have a good look under the hood of this industry.

There been an interesting discussion on The Common Rail. Of course everyone is talking about it, but unfortunately few have proper insight. SMIT is now standing by to move to the pollution abatement stage,  once Search and Rescue operations are terminated. The salvage contract has not been awarded. I believe though this will be one of the most costly and massive salvage jobs ever seen. I suspect the damage from both the port and starboard side will be too great for her to be re floated, one can hope, but most likely the residents of Isola del Giglio will have a new tourist attraction for some time to come. It would not surprise me if Carnival / Costa sent them a bill, to collect their share of the “tourist” revenue.

Pictures and videos from various internet sources.

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