Regulatory Roundup

Kevin Gilheany Don’t overlook the causative factors in the Costa Concordia

January 26, 2012

The investigation has just begun and so, too, has the speculation on what went wrong in the Costa Concordia cruise ship disaster. With so much video, data and media coverage available, it is hard not to.

Of course, the captain is taking the brunt of it and is being called a “cowboy,” “negligent,” “incompetent,” and various other names (perhaps deservedly so.) It doesn’t matter to me if the captain is indeed a kook or just a mariner who took a huge unnecessary risk that resulted in a catastrophe. I hope that the focus of the investigation will remain on the causative factors and not be derailed by the emotional response from the media and others.

Already, the media has been focusing on the captain’s abandoning of the ship and that there was alleged chaos during the evacuation. Honestly, they got almost 4,000 people off of that ship, with or without the captain being on deck. While all of those issues will have to be looked at, we should not forget that if the ship didn’t hit the rocks in the first place, there wouldn’t have been a need to abandon ship.

I recently read a press release from, the official website of the European Union. It said: “Vice-President Siim Kallas, European Commissioner for Transport has asked that the currently ongoing review of EU passenger ship safety legislation take fully into account any lessons to be learnt from the Costa Concordia tragedy.”

The EU release goes on to explain in detail the priority of the issues which will be looked into which include stability, design of ships and technical evolution, evacuation, scope of EU legislation, and qualifications and training of crew. While these are all important issues, none of them address what appears to be a causative factor of the accident — the navigational errors that caused the ship hit the rocks.

In navigation lexicon the official term for navigating a vessel in or out of harbors, or near the coast is known as “piloting.” What were the piloting practices of the Costa Concordia? Do they plot courses, danger ranges, or use the ship’s tactical data to calculate advance and transfer? Or has the advent of technology rendered us so complacent that ship captains now simply “drive” cruise ships like they are tugs?

We’ll have to wait for the official investigation report. In the mean time, all maritime companies should take this opportunity to review their own navigation standards. I recently blew the dust off of my old textbooks to see what they had to say on the topic. Interestingly enough, it’s all still relevant despite GPS. Bowditch and Dutton* warned us of this a long time ago.

For more information, visit Maritime Compliance International.

("The American Practical Navigator: Bowditch" and "Dutton's Nautical Navigation")

Expand/View Comments -  4 Comments
01/26/2012 22:11:47 Peter Buemi says:

I believe the cause of this Accident was strictly human error from a complete disregards on the part of the captain to maintain 'right mindfulnes,not having an active and watchful mind for the safety of his 4200 passengers. As reported in the media the captain 3 times before had passed very close to the Island to be in reception of another captain friend's house, sort of wave and blow the whistle number for a 'hit' with a friend. Normally nothing wrong with networking with friends, but in this case it was reported the skipper was eyeballing it, not even using the radar or CPA calculations or GPS plotting. Navigation has become so easy with GPS compared to my education/experience with engine room telegraph/double the angle on the bow for CPA, etc, that the question here is what distracted the 'safety mind frame ' of the captain to be so flippent with the safety of 4200 passengers. Was it the unregestered Hungrian call-girls passengers? or what? Captain Peter Buemi.

01/26/2012 18:02:52 Vladislav F. Colangelo says:

Please correct the direction from "Starboard" 180 turn to "PORT" 180 turn, in my previous comment. Thanks

01/26/2012 17:59:56 Vladislav F. Colangelo says:

I believe that the alision was catastrophic, but not serious. If the damaged vessel, after having lost part of its waterplane area resulting in a reduced KM and hence a reduced righting arm, had not initiated a starboard 180 turn to make for the nearby port,it would have just settled into the deep water at the predicted and allowable list. The lifeboats would then have launched easily. However, the CC's hard turn heeled it outboard beyond it's recovery righting moment and it consequently continued to roll to the starboard. Fortunately, the water depth was shallow and the CC went simply aground, exposing her damaged port side.

01/26/2012 16:33:40 Mark Sales says:

Kevin; fair enough about the concern about the quality of piloting skills, I think that's in the hands of the Italian courts though. There are those who will look at CC's allision and ask (much like the Twin Towers after 911) why didn't her underwater side shell have enough strength (or a wing tanks) to resist the raking gash at 15 knots? Once the side shell was ripped open and she was beam onto the seas/current (that carried her dead-ship down on the island) why did she flood so comprehensively and rapidly that they lost propulsion only moments after the damage occurred? That this casualty occurred does mean that it will enter the statistics from which the current probablistic damage stability is derived - under SOLAS Ch II-1 Part B-1 Regulation 8.3.2 she should have been designed to withstand a damage length of 87 meters with 3.5 meter penetration. I thinks folks are also going to look askance at the effect of the progressive flooding with respect to the list CC had on her when they finally tried to launch her life boats and rafts. There the aesthetic damns the designers, somewhat. Her 'wedding cake' superstructure atop her modest underwater body would tend to indicate that even if they had the power to ballast her to correct the list; she probably didn't have the tank capacity to do so. After her battleship turn to reduce headway induced the initial list, without power I don't see how she could have corrected, even without the possible complication of the live load of passengers milling about. Beyond those points, the 2006 SOLAS amendments were intended to require (return to port regulations in force from 2010) propulsion redundancy. Just one of the many things likely to be looked at in a thorough forensic review of this casualty.


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