Sunday, January 22, 2012 | Categories: Episodes
On Cross Country Checkup: cruise ship disaster
The story of the Costa Concordia would be a comedy of errors, if it weren't so tragic.
It raises a range of questions from ship safety to courage in the face of danger ...as well as memories of other disasters.
What are your thoughts on the foundering of the Italian cruise ship, Costa Concordia?
With host Rex Murphy.
When I was a boy, my dad reassured me that ferries almost never sank. Today it seems I hear of a ferry or ship accident every few days. So what has changed? Two things, I think. There is simply far more traffic. And there is more intense pressure to turn a profit, sacrificing safety and overworking crew to do it.
Victoria, British Columbia
For companies forcing their issue at the Northern Gateway environemntal hearings, and for a Prime Minister and cabinet clearly ready to bully their way past any recomendation of the board counter to their cause, this cruise ship fiasco offers real life lessons which should be impossible to ignore. The Italian disaster happened in calm waters, free of storm and ice. The west coast of Canada and the east coast of China are not so predictable. The fluid difference between the Italian story and the inevitable grounding of supertankers in the Queen Charlotte Islands, to say nothing of an inevitable grounding in China as well, is that the human blood spilled in the Mediterrenean Sea will wash away and cause no real environmental trauma. The heavy, toxic Oilsands bitumen will remain for generations. The oil from the Exxon Valdes is still there.
Me thinks that this will be a very good time for anyone who was planning to take a cruise, to do it now. The prices should be plummeting in the next little while. Not for me though. No law. No medical to speak of. Some have made out all right with these type of holidays.
Grande Prairie, Alberta
I just got back Thursday from a cruise on the Oceania ship Regatta and there was no life boat drill. There was a letter addressed to myself and my fellow traveller with instructions in the case of an emergency.
I would contrast the actions of the Captain of the Costa Concordia to those of Captain Cheslea Sullenberger on the Hudson river. Captain Sullenberger made two full passes through the sinking Airbus to satisfy himself that all of the passengers and crew were safely out of the aircraft.
As an Airline Captain, it is our responsibility to ensure that the disposition of all of our passengers and crew are attended to before leaving the aircraft in any accident or incident. This is no different than a ship's Captain.
Captain Bruce Sinclair
Everybody talks about the conduct of the captain, but no one talks about how the collision was dealt with. Titanic sank because the flooding due to the iceberg could not be contained as the watertight bulkheads didn't go high enough. Presumably, ship construction has been improved in the intervening century. Despite the long wound, why couldn't this ship's flooded compartments have been isolated enough to keep her afloat and upright while the evacuation was carried out?
Burnaby, British Columbia
Does anybody else see parallels with the Queen of the North, the BC ferry that went off course, hit an island, sank and took two passengers with her?
Lockeport, Nova Scotia
Mama mia, my boy has fallen and couldn't get up. Why oh why didn't anyone help him?
Let's find out who saved the ship from the disaster of sinking and losing all the passengers. Rather, someone turned to port and put the ship on rocks preventing it from going down - an accomplishment, I would say. Much like Sully the air captain whose ship could have lost all aboard in the Hudson, but managed to land it on the Hudson. Also, Ernest Shackleton made a dreadful series of mistakes and lost his ship, but there is now an industry of congratulating him on how he got everyone to safety. Maybe so, but he was recovering from an act of pure idiocy at sea. If, in fact, the Captain himself managed to get the punctured ship to a place where it wouldn't sink, maybe we could cut him some slack despite his lousy judgments otherwise.
Cape Breton, Nova Scotia
I am listening to your show and am reminded of a very brave young girl. In 1991, a neighbour, Jenny Petersen, who was a teenager at the time, was employed on board the Oceanos looking after children, when it sank. I remember hearing that she stayed on board and calmly helped all the passengers to safety before she finally left the ship while many of the crew had left the ship earlier. Courage, and the skill of being able to act responsibly in the face of great danger is something that not everyone has and is probably instilled in young people during their upbringing. Ironically, she was raised in the Burns Lake area, an isolated northern B.C. community (which has just suffered a major tragedy) where young people learn to be independent and responsible and to make critical life-threatening decisions quickly, while making the best of growing up in an area with incredible natural resources but little in the way of modern entertainment and amenities.
Royston, British Columbia
I haven't yet heard anyone talk about the horrible environmental record of cruise ships. They are gross consumers of non-renewable resources, they pollute seas and harbour towns all around the world, and nobody needs to take a cruise.
Victoria, British Columbia
In the nineties there was a popular rock song by the Mighty Mighty Bosstones which included the lyric, "I'm not a coward but I've never been tested." It is certainly appropos.
I listened to the translated exchange between that Captain and that harbormaster. This man was certainly tested and certainly failed. I was disgusted, like most. But how many people would pass such a test?
Most of us in the well to do world though are far too quick to pass judgement. Most are lucky enough to never be in a situation of crisis, to be in grave physical danger and still have to uphold our duties. Firemen, for example are not required to stand in a burning building until the last resident is rescued. Policemen retreat and call for backup. I am not sure but I think if we ask social scientists to tell us what they have learned, they will likely say that more than half of adults in a similar situation would flee, especially if everyone else was doing the same. To say it more bluntly, when push comes to shove, most of us are cowards and will do whatever the herd does. In the captain's own head, at the moment at least, his behavior was probably justified. Under duress, humans can rationalize almost any behavior. Those who haven't been there shouldn't be too quick to judge. As an advanced society, we should admit we don't have enough real experience with physical danger anymore to know how we would deal with it individually, and I have to include myself in that assessment. If i were tested, I hope I would pass, but I've never been there.
Thunder Bay, Ontario
The skipper should, at this point, admit his mistake regarding the course and say openly that he acted like a coward and that he is sorry. He has little to lose anyway. It is time for him to at least start acting like a man! The possible prerequisite of a military background has been rightly raised. Also, strictly from an evolutionist's point of view, this man should be neutered as part of his penalty.
Cruises and similar wasteful activities are criminal. They should be banned. So should much of the tourist activities that goes on by air and maritime transportation. These destroy the environment. The drivel, as heard on your show, that emanates from cruise companies and the money bags (that are less than one per cent of this planet) who patronise them is nauseating. No tears should be shed for those participating in such criminal activities if they get into trouble.
Good afternoon, Rex. I just have a few comments on the recent cruise ship disaster. On Friday night my wife and I watched 20/20 on TV and the subject was cruise ships and their operation and safety. It was shocking to see just what does go on. There were scenes of drunkenness, brawling, people overboard, etc. It was worth watching to see what goes on aboard some of these ships. My second point is the staunch defense of the captain made by a young waitress who was only a passenger on this particular trip. It strikes me as quite curious that she would be on the bridge to "help" the captain at this very critical time. In ending, the captain's excuse for abandoning ship would be great comedy had his actions not been so destructive to so many people.
Quesnel, British Columbia
Unfortunately, the loss of life in this case is a tragedy, but I believe the issue of the disaster should now focus on recovery. Not only of the remainder of the bodies, but of the ship itself. The fact that the threat of an ecological disaster is very prominent, every effort should be made to right and re-float the ship. Having the vessel move and shift is a safety concern to the recovery divers as well as recovering the remainder of the fuel on board to negate the threat to the environment. If the ship were to fall from the ledge where it currently rests it will become an even bigger problem and another disaster.
Halifax, Nova Scotia
I'm listening to your conversation with a variety of people who have made some very interesting insights into how this horrendous incident happened. I want to just briefly add that the captain does not need to be consequenced as he has to live with himself and try to come to terms with his cowardly and irresponsible actions on that fateful day. That, in itself, will be an impossible task.
The metaphorical implications here are hard to escape. The financial captains of Wall Street have set a template for how successful humans behave in our world, and by their reckoning, the Italian captain's behavior was exemplary. More's the pity. We live in an every man for himself and the devil take the hindmost world. As a lifelong sailor, I can only say that all the old codes still apply on my schooner, and always will.
Lunenburg, Nova Scotia
Frankly, I was appalled when I heard that the Captain had abandoned ship in the midst of an emergency evacuation! When I was a young child, an Atlantic Canadian maritime disaster occurred that was huge news at the time: the Flying Enterprise and her Captain Karlssen, who, in spite of gale-force winds and mountainous waves leaving an ice-coated and unbelievably dangerous environment to survive on, stayed on board until a full rescue operation could be undertaken of his ship. That is the kind of moral character, I, as a passenger, would expect of my Captain. Many of the passengers on board the Costa Concordia would have been incapable of swimming to shore, let alone moving with any confidence in a seriously listing ship. The life boats on the listing side would have been very difficult to deploy, but as the ship continued to list, most on the upper side would have been impossible to release as well. I don't imagine any evacuation procedures would have covered such an eventuality. And I cannot begin to imagine the panic and sheer terror experienced by the passengers and crew knowing that the Captain left them to fend for themselves as his ship foundered.
I had a sister that used to live in the Cayman Islands where cruise ships made daily stops. The unspoken saying was "Cruise ships are for those who are newly wed or nearly dead." You could not pay me to get on one of those floating super sized hotels. As for the captain being off course, can you imagine an airline pilot saying, "oh, I am just going to take a little detour and swing by the Empire State building so we can get a close look!". Not much difference, really. One can only hope that the investigation will lead to even stricter laws and training for Cruise ship employees and especially captains. My heart goes out to those who lost loved ones. This accident never should have happened.
Halifax, Nova Scotia
Your guest who claimed that the Costa Concordia was a "one off" has a short memory. About four years ago, while I was working as a photography instructor on the Oceania vessel "Regatta," we sailed into the caldera at Santorini where the surface of the water was covered with a sheen of oil from a Greek cruise ship that had run into the island. Two passengers died in the accident, a father and his daughter. Our captain used the ship's thrusters to maintain its position in the caldera, apologizing for the inconvenience, but adding, "I do not wish to be the second most famous captain at Santorini. I spent many months in the Caribbean, crossing the Atlantic and the Mediterranean from Gilbralter to Istanbul. Yes, I would cruise again.
Vernon, British Columbia
I can't pretend that I have an understanding of the mind of a captain faced with the prospect of preserving their honour or their lives, and I think that people should do some soul searching before being so quick to condemn Schettino for his act of self preservation. However, I have a small amount of insight gained from my experiences as a sailor. Years ago, when I was a young sailing instructor, I made a mistake that put the safety of my class in jeopardy. I made the choice to sail on an evening that called for thundershowers, trusting that we would have time to return to dock if a storm materialised. When we were on the water, a terrific thunderstorm materialized, and we found ourselves in the middle of the lake as the rain poured and the storm boomed directly above us. I ordered my class back to dock, and as we ran for safety with the clouds cracking and rolling overhead, I was struck with the realization that if one of the six boats was struck by lightning, I would give anything for it to be mine. I must stress, however, that my state of mind was not bourne of altruism, but by pride. It was not that I valued my safety less than my students', but that I was responsible for the danger I had put them in, and that I would rather be struck by lighning than be the sailing instructor who allowed it to happen to one of her students. An act of cowardice in itself, in a way. I have a tremendous respect for captains who have put their passengers and crews before themselves in life-or-death situations. Schettino is now facing consequences possibly worse than those he would have faced if he had stayed aboard. I am certainly not commending him for bravery, but remember that the lines between courage and cowardice are blurry and relative. I should add that my class made it to shore shaken, wet, but not thunderstruck.
Dear Cross Country Checkup,
In this day and age, the dictates of environmental responsibility would enjoin all of us to avoid going on these rather polluting and resource-wise wasteful cruises. These large cruise ships cause great disruption to life in the oceans, pollute the environment with their exhausts and effluents, and if they sink or get damaged, pollute the ocean with large quantities of fuel and other toxic debris. All these problems merely for the pleasure of a few human beings that have enough money to burn in expensive cruises when the planet is in danger of serious disasters due to climate change, pollution, and extinction of life. Given the above, I have no sympathy whatsoever with those who go on these cruises and even less for the corporations that promote these environmentally extravagant activities. All of these people and organizations need both education and stringent societal regulation.
If this can happen to an ultra modern ship, where every effort is being made toward safety, in calm waters, on a well known coastline, how can the government assure us that there will be no similar sinkings of oil tankers the B.C. coast with the Northern Gateway project?
Vancouver, British Columbia
While most of the focus has been on the misconduct of the captain, this was clearly a much larger systemic failure with the management of this cruise line. News reports say this wasn't the first such course deviation. Furthermore, the evacuation procedures apparently weren't followed. I work in the chemical industry, which similarly has a strong emphasis on safety. Safety systems and procedures are designed such that no single failure, be it human error or machine, should result in such a catastrophic disaster. Hopefully the ensuing enquiry will uncover how such a complete systems failure was allowed to occur.
Very unfortunate accident for the Costa Concordia. B.c. Ferries sank the Queen of the North, and no officer was fined or imprisoned. Why?
Nanaimo, British Columbia
As an ex-MARS officer for the Royal Canadian Navy, I have some experience in large ship navigation, and I'd be willing to bet exactly what happened to cause this crash is this: the person with the conn was not looking out the window.
These ships are outfitted with the latest technologies: radar, surface charts, sub-surface charts and accurate soundings, gps feeds and AIS ship locators that indicate other ships based on bearing and range. These technologies are all fed into a central system that maps the layers one on top of another, to provide an all-in-one picture of the surroundings for miles around and below to great accuracy. The problem exists, however, when they are exclusively relied upon for guidance. Sometimes these inlays, especially the radar, do not match up perfectly, and can slide sideways for some technical reason, and the radar profile of land may not match up with the edge on the chart. I'm sure this happened, and the captain was spending too much time looking at the screen and not enough out the window. If he did look out the window, he would've seen this situation developing long ago and adjusted his course.
I have no doubt the ship was not in autopilot, as she was given permission to deviate from the usual course to a dangerous location. And I have no doubt the captain was aware of this, because once she hit the rock, she turned in the correct direction, swinging her stern away from the danger by turning inward. This counter-intuitive manoever requires forethought, which was done.
The verdict? Too much reliance on technology and not enough on the good old mark one eyeball.
Victoria, British Columbi
Listening to your show today, no one has brought up the sinking of the Queen of the North on the west coast. There was a similar situation of lack of attention on the bridge, the absence of the captain and the question of a personal relationship between the two people on the bridge, who had been romantically involved.
In 1965 I was a crewmember on a Norwegian freighter caught in a three-day typhoon 500 miles off Japan. The waves were 40 feet high. The water temperature compares to that off Newfoundland. Lifeboat drills were difficult in port on calm seas. The open lifeboat is impossible in such conditions. Todays lifeboats are useless. Free-fall life pods, not antiquated open-hulled row boats should be mandated through universal steamship regulations.
Love your program!