Monday, January 16, 2012

(Updated Jan. 18) The Best Coverage of the Cruise Ship Disaster Off Italy

[Costa Concordia: After and before] indisputably on See this link to reports on the wrecking of the Costa Concordia cruise ship in the waters just off Italy. The videos are amazing.

Cruisecritic is one of the outlets of TripAdvisor, and even though I've never taken a cruise, I consult this one just for up-to-date, in-depth, crowd-sourced news of that interesting industry.

Here's the Wikipedia entry on the ship.

My guess is that while the cruise line (a subsidiary of Carnival Corp., which operates Carnival Cruise) rushes to blame the captain, who was certainly at fault in some significant measure, there's an uglier story to come out about how this ship was operated, and how often it sailed to maximize profits and cut costs.

UPDATE Jan. 18 -- A reader alludes to a good point in a comment to this post, which is that rushing to criminalize an accident like this is manifestly never a good idea.

Clearly, the captain of the wrecked ship is responsible -- that's the law of the sea. And quite evidently, his actions are deeply suspect, including his leaving of the ship evidently before everyone was accounted for. There are also reports that the captain may have navigated recklessly into dangerous water to get close to the island, where relatives of a retiring ship's officer had been told to gather to see the liner pass by close, tooting its fog horn in salute.

On the other hand, lots of questions remain unanswered, and the cruise line so far hasn't addressed them, especially as the media attention is so diverted to the cackling over the hapless captain. Among those questions:

--Why was the crew clearly so inept in emergency procedures?

--Who at the Italian cruise company and at the parent company, the Carnival cruise giant, is responsible for maintenance and training, and what do they have to say about the clear lack of emergency training of the Costa Concordia crew?

--Were there enough lifeboats on that ship? Certainly, the Titanic precedent applies, even if it's from 1912.

--Does the exhausting quick turnaround in this ship's normal schedule -- it's out for a week, reloads with new passengers, and hustles back out immediately -- impact maintenance and safety standards?

--What about that passenger video that shows a scene on board when the power went out? If you look at that, the ship is steady and passengers in the passageways seem calm as the power-outage announcement is made and the lights go off -- suggesting to me that this might have preceded the ship's hitting the rocks. The timeline should be crystal clear on exactly when the power went out, because a power outage -- perhaps as the result of faulty maintenance -- could certainly cause a breakdown in a ship's steering.

There I go speculating on that last point, and I learned my own lessons five years ago about how speculation, emotionalism and a rush to judgment by the authorities and the media in Brazil seriously damaged the investigation into the tragic mid-air collision over the Amazon.

I'll say this, partly from the horrible experience in Brazil: Sometimes the initial media narrative is skewed, and even dead wrong. In Brazil, as I recall, the doddering Defense Minister, Wolderful Waldir Pires, actually told the Brazilian media that the Legacy 600 business jet was performing reckless aerial maneuvers over the central Amazon when it collided with that 737, killing all 154 aboard the commercial plane.

Then some aviation ambulance-chasing lawyer told the Brazilian media that I myself had confirmed these aerial maneuvers. That bald-faced lie was even repeated by the Dow Jones News Service in the U.S. before I had them issue a correction.

Turned out the "aerial maneuvers" speculation stemmed from systemic malfunctions at Brazilian air traffic control, where radar screens were out of whack and (by the time the Brazilians finally noticed them, well after the crash) had been falsely indicating altitude fluctuations by the Legacy, which was flying inside one of the communications dead-zones over the Amazon that the Brazilian military (and media) kept insisting did not exist.

So let's just say this: This is a very confusing situation off the coast of Tuscany. The Italians are running the show, and while that's not as dire a situation as the even-more-emotional Brazilians running it, it is a good reason to be wary.

A whole lot of questions need to be answered. Accidents like this one often occur after multiple mishaps and missteps, some linked and maybe some not even directly linked, only coincidentally.

Tossing people in jail before even the basic facts are known is probably not a good idea, because in a rush to criminalize the accident, people involved often stop answering questions when they're looking at a prison cell.


1 comment:

Jeremy P said...

Joe, given your history and experiences, don't you think it's premature for the media to immediately determine the captain as "at fault" as well? As you know, the international aviation community, certain countries excluded, has agreed to let major accidents be investigated by accredited industry experts, not the police and the courts. The focus of investigation should be to determine the causes, and make recommendations to stop it from occurring again, without "fault" being assigned immediately to the crew. While in this case there are no international problems since the captain was Italian and the ship sunk in Italian waters, but what if he were foreign? Isn't his arrest a bit premature?

Unless there is evidence that the captain deliberately crashed the ship, for some other reason, I see no reason to assume a crime has been committed. Perhaps there was navigational negligence - and the investigation will show this - but what purpose does arresting him serve? It will just cause the crew to "lawyer up" and make it all that much harder for the true systemic causes to be determined.