Last Update January 29, 2012
Built at Fincantieri's Sestri shipyard, the Costa Concordia measured 291 M (954 FT) in length with a beam of 38 M (125 FT). The ship was completed in 2005 and began service in 2006.
Costa Concordia was indicative of most modern cruise ships. It was outfitted with all the necessary equipment to assure the safety of the 3200 passengers and 1000 crew members on board.
The 114,500 gross ton ship was considered well designed and well built. Both designers and builders have an excellent reputation for high quality work.
The route of the ship is a well charted course with stops at the Port of Savona, Civitavecchia, Palermo, Caglairi, Palma, Barcelona, and Marseille.
The Italian flagged vessel operated in the Mediterranean with Italian officers and Captain who were experienced in the area of the Tyrrhenian Sea where the disaster occurred. The Italian island of Giglio where the vessel came to rest is approximately 240 KM (150 MI) North-Northwest of Rome.
On January 13, 2012 the Costa Concordia struck the Le Scole Reef near the Island of Giglio at approximately 19:30 local time. The collision and subsequent loss of electrical power in some parts of the ship were reported to passengers as an electrical problem. The collision caused an opening in the hull 50 meters (165 feet) long and as much as one meter wide.
The Le Scole Reef is a well-known underwater feature in the area. The natural structure has appeared prominently in nautical charts of the area for several hundred years. Because of the shallow water threat and possibility of collision the area is a marked hazard and is outside of the approved route for large vessels like the Costa Concordia.
After striking the reef the crew of the vessel began moving her to an area near the coast of the island where the water is shallow and rescue attempts would be simplified. This is a common and accepted practice throughout the maritime world. The badly damaged ship reached the area near the coast of Giglio two hours after the collision.
Rescue craft from the Italian Coast Guard and private vessels responded from the Port of Giglio to the stricken vessel offshore. Darkness and the precarious position of the ship, which was listing to starboard at an angle of 20 degrees, delayed evacuation and was the reason many passengers took the crew announcement to abandon ship seriously enough to leap into the dark waters.
At least one casualty, and possibly many more, occurred when passengers began to fall or jump from the ship as it tipped further under the water. Eventually the vessel came to rest at about 60 degrees to the starboard side.
The known casualty was a seventy year-old man who suffered a fatal heart attack from the thermal shock of the cold January waters. At the time of the incident the Italian Coast Guard reported the water temperature as 14 C (57 F).
At similar water temperatures hypothermia will begin within three minutes and fatal consequences from temperature are possible in fifteen minutes. A more deadly phenomena known as the gasp reflex was the likely demise of some of the passengers. An unavoidable gasp or inhalation of air, or more likely water, happens when entering cold water. In this situation a person without floatation will be unlikely to be able to expel the inhaled water and will drown.
Those persons in the water would quickly lose control of their muscles and could no longer swim or self-rescue.
On the deck of the Costa Concordia passengers were reportedly without any sort of organized direction. The group of passengers aboard the ship had not yet had a required safety drill since they were in the early stages of their voyage. Recent legislation put more substantial safety practices in place for ships visiting ports in the United States.
Audio recordings from a passenger's mobile phone call for help demonstrated the chaos and disorganized nature of the evacuation. While one passenger in the background of the call can be heard saying "Oh my God it's the Titanic" in Italian others can be heard yelling "What do we do?"
During this same time some staff of the ship were doing the best they could to evacuate children and elderly passengers. It is reported that lifeboats were released by cutting support lines with an axe. Without a doubt many people were saved by unknown heroes, one Hungarian musician calmed and saved many children and their parents before disappearing into the ship to retrieve his violin where he perished in the attempt.
At the time of impact the Captain of the Costa Concordia, Francesco Schettino, was engaged in conversation with the Maitre d' hotel of the ship on the bridge.
When the collision with the reef occurred Captain Schettino abandoned the bridge to retreat to his cabin adjacent to the bridge. Accounts of the crew tell us the Captain was not involved in the decision to steer the ship to the relative safety of the Port of Giglio. It is unknown who made the decision to announce the accident to passengers and crew as an electrical problem.
The events of the next few hours are unclear. The main source of information comes from radio conversations between the coast guard and other vessels including the Costa Concordia and the lifeboat where Captain Schettino and some of his crew had taken refuge.
One conversation between the coast guard and the Captain is representative of his behavior during the crisis.
In that conversation the Captain says he is coordinating the evacuation from a lifeboat. In response the coast guard officer on the radio tells the captain to re-board the vessel to report the situation. The Captain refuses and says it is too dark to do such a thing. The response will ring in my ears forever; "Do you want to go home Schettino? Are you scared, do you want to go home?"; exactly, the point could not have been made any better.
A professional mariner knows that all passengers and crew must be evacuated before any officers leave the ship. The Captain should not leave until all officers are safe. Then and only then may a Captain leave the vessel or be rescued. Schettino's abandonment of the majority of his passengers and crew is unacceptable, criminal, and an unbelievable act of cowardice.
The explanation of why he was in a lifeboat in the first place is terribly tragic. Captain Schettino claimed to have "fallen into a lifeboat as it was launched".
The people of Giglio and the Italian Coast Guard should be commended for saving those who survived. At the time this was written the number of dead stands at seventeen and a dozen more are missing and presumed dead.
There are many lessons to be learned from this tragedy. Most of them stem from a failure to follow established best practices.
The impact of this accident will not be known fully until the entire load of fuel oil and carcass of the vessel is removed which is estimated to take as long as one year. Environmental concerns are significant since the ship lies within Europe's largest marine sanctuary and seasonal winds are expected soon which could blow floating fuel oil and other debris towards the Natural Park of Maremma on the Italian Coast North-Northeast of Giglio.