22 January 2012

LIFE: Costa Scruise Up

SARONNO, Italy – Maybe if it hadn’t been Friday the 13th, things would have turned out differently for Captain Schettino and his ship, the Costa Concordia, but it wasn’t to be. Thanks to recently recovered satellite navigation data we now what he did just before the cruise ship hit the rocks and began to capsize. 
Oh Captain, My Captain
The initial impact with the underwater rocks happened because he decided to deviate from the prescribed route – an error he has admitted. The new information shows that he knew the ship was in trouble and in an attempt to make evacuation easier, he performed a sort of nautical hand-brake turn to get closer to the island of Giglio. That maneuver is thought to have subsequently saved lives.

While the Captain has not publically come out and said why he wanted to sail close to the Island, a former Costa Cruise officer, who wants to remain anonymous, told me that a sail by salute to former and existing Costa crew members and officers is a well-known tradition at Costa. A Facebook posting by someone living on the island confirms they were waiting for the sail by salute.  
 The Costa Concordia at home in Savona (Photo by Victoria R.)
After the impact the ship headed away from Giglio towards the mainland. With the ship in total darkness, passengers were told that there was an electrical failure which the engineers were trying to fix. Some have accused the captain of misleading them, but, with 4,200 people on board, not panicking them until the extent of the damage was known seems understandable.

What is not clear is the Captain’s apparent failure to notify port or coastguard authorities of what had occurred although he claims that he did. He says he called the Admiral three times to report the incident and ask for help, but his calls were never returned. This has been denied by Costa Cruise Lines.
Dining Room Costa Concordia
The judge's view is that the captain, due to incompetence and negligence, underestimated the extent of the damage and failed to notify the coastal authorities of the accident in timely fashion. The emergency services center first learned of the seriousness of the situation through a passengers' cell phone calls to land. He said the captain could not help being immediately aware of the seriousness of the damage due to the ever increasingly evident tilt of the ship and because he was advised by the crew of the great amount of water being taken in.

Prosecutor’s transcripts published here in Italy show that Captain Schettino said that 
immediately after hitting the rock he sent two of his officers to the engine room to check on the state of the vessel. As soon as he realized the damage caused to the ship, he called the director of operations for Costa Cruises, Roberto Ferrarini.
The Spa on the Concordia
"I told him: I've got myself into a mess, there was a contact with the seabed. I am telling you the truth, we passed by Giglio and there was an impact," Mr Schettino said. "I can't remember how many times I called him in the following hour and 15 minutes. In any case, I am certain that I informed Ferrarini about everything in real time," he said.

However, Costa's chief executive, Pierluigi Foschi, told Italian state television that the company spoke to the captain at 10.05pm, some 20 minutes after the ship ran aground, but could not offer the ship suitable assistance because the captain's description "did not correspond to the truth".
Concordia's Room with a View
What emerges from the satellite "best guess" tracking of the ship's course is that 11 minutes after impact, at 9.53pm, the ship slowed to about three knots. A few minutes later, as the ship took on water, the captain tried to turn it back towards the island's port, but the ship started to tilt and sink. According to the satellite tracking record, the ship was listing by as much as 20 degrees to starboard, the opposite side of where the 150ft gash had been opened up. At 10.10pm the Concordia came to rest 50 meters from shore, listing badly, and the evacuation order was given.

The evacuation was described as chaotic but with several thousand people trying to get off the ship in the dark, it could hardly be anything else. Coming into question is Captain Schettino's role during this unfortunate event. He says he helped passengers into lifeboats, gave one his own life jacket and, at some point, he tripped and fell into a lifeboat, which seems highly unlikely. An initial reports show he left the ship around 11:30pm, when there were still about 300 people onboard. That resulted in the now notorious conversation with Captain Gregorio de Falco, the senior coastguard officer, in which he was ordered to go back on board.  

 The Dirty Details
Mr Schettino, a 52 year old native of Castellammare di Stabia, a town near Naples, is now under house arrest and faces possible charges of manslaughter, causing a shipwreck and abandoning ship. He has been suspended and notified that the company will no longer pay his legal fees. In fact, Costa has signed on as a civil party in the prosecution. The former Costa Cruise officer I spoke with said in his opinion Costa is using Schettino as a scapegoat, not that Schettino didn’t make a lot of mistakes, but the blame is not entirely his.

In the meantime the search and rescue efforts for survivors and bodies continues and the operation to remove the 500,000 gallons of fuel in the Concordia’s tanks is on hold, an environmental disaster waiting to happen.  It may take up to four weeks to pump the remaining fuel from the ship. As the ship is no longer functioning, the heavy fuel oil can get thick and viscous, making it harder to pump. To remedy this, a steam-heated element is put through the pipeline to warm the oil, making pumping much faster. The oil will be pumped to a barge and then to a larger offloading vessel.
Who's Sorry Now?
Sucking out the oil creates a vacuum, so another hole is made lower down the tank to allow seawater to be pumped in, replacing the oil. This also ensures extracting the oil does not cause the ship to shift position on the seabed.

As for the Italians, they don’t know what to think. 

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