Costa Concordia : the worst has been avoided

16 Jan 2012

Gigantic ocean liners and other types of ships such as container ships have worried towing and sea salvage specialists for years. Such large vessels worried the sailor and writer Joseph Conrad a century ago. Back in May 1912, one month after the Titanic tragedy, , he imagined the horrors and doubts of a night-watchman in the future, that is to say today. “ You are at night on the bridge in charge of a 150,000 tons ship, with a motor track, organ-loft etc. with a full cargo of passengers, a full crew of 1,500 cafe waiters, two sailors and a boy and three collapsible boats (.). You perceive suddenly right ahead, and close to, something that looks like a large ice-floe. What do you do? “(1).

The Costa Concordia disaster is not on the scale of the Titanic (around 1,500 deaths). Yet danger at sea is often due to the shoreline. In the case of the Costa Concordia, the rocky coastline of Giglio island has kept a part of the ship out of the water and this saved the lives of hundreds or even thousands of passengers who otherwise would not have been able to escape the sunken wreck into the shallow waters. During the hour preceding the order to evacuate the ship, the captain of the Costa Concordia was able to be in contact with the Costa Cruise crisis action team. This consultation is mandatory under the International Safety Management Code prescribed by the IMO (International Maritime Organisation). The order, if any, to guide the ship on the rocky coast enabled him to find support. The current thinking, of the maritime prefects responsible for saving lives at sea from vessels in French waters, is a tendency to favour beaching ships in difficulty to facilitate passenger and crew evacuation.

Joseph Conrad added: “The mere increase of size is not progress. If it were, elephantiasis, which causes a man’s legs to become as large as tree-trunks, would be a sort of progress, whereas it is nothing but a very ugly disease.”. The Costa Concordia, built in 2006, had 1,013 crew members and 3,216 passengers. The worst is yet to come. The Allure of the Seas, built in 2011 has a capacity of 2,100 crew members and 6,360 passengers. Naval engineers have also been caught in the wake of this and rack their brains ease the flow of traffic on all levels when the passengers including elderly, children and disabled persons are in a state of panic. Robin des Bois has taken advantage of the Grenelle de Mer to bring together concerns about ships continually increasing in size – and specifically cruise liners (2).

The Costa Concordia has 2,400 tonnes of fuel in its hold. The Dutch company Smit Tak has been tasked with pumping this. In addition to avoiding a potential oil spill, this is also to avoid the gradual dispersal of wastewater; thousands of pieces of domestic, plastic, food, maintenance waste and personal belongings from this half-submerged city.

We need the sinking of the Costa Concordia to aid advances in international regulations on vessel size, the capacity of passenger evacuation and come up with innovations for lifeboat access.

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