Tuesday, January 17, 2012

More on the Major Maritime Mishap in the Mediterranean (or "Andrea Doria II")

Since my first post on the unfortunate Italian cruise liner Costa Concordia, there have been some new developments:

First, the ship's captain, Francesco Schettino, seems to be a real piece o' work.  He was among the first to abandon ship, in the process abandoning the passengers and crew who depended on him.  He was seen leaving the ship early in the crisis:
Maritime authorities, passengers and mounting evidence pointed Sunday toward the captain of a cruise liner that ran aground and capsized off the Tuscan coast, amid accusations that he abandoned ship before everyone was safely evacuated and was showing off when he steered the vessel far too close to shore.

Meanwhile, attention focused on the captain, who was spotted by Coast Guard officials and passengers fleeing the scene even as the chaotic and terrifying evacuation was under way.
The ship's Italian owner, a subsidiary of Carnival Cruise lines, issued a statement late Sunday saying there appeared to be "significant human error" on the part of the captain, Francesco Schettino, "which resulted in these grave consequences."
Authorities were holding Schettino for suspected manslaughter and a prosecutor confirmed Sunday they were also investigating allegations the captain abandoned the stricken liner before all the passengers had escaped. According to the Italian navigation code, a captain who abandons a ship in danger can face up to 12 years in prison.
A French couple who boarded the Concordia in Marseille, Ophelie Gondelle and David Du Pays, told the Associated Press they saw the captain in a lifeboat, covered by a blanket, well before all the passengers were off the ship.
"The commander left before and was on the dock before everyone was off," said Gondelle, 28, a French military officer.
"Normally the commander should only leave at the end," said Du Pays, a police officer who said he helped an injured passenger to a rescue boat. "I did what I could."
Coast Guard officers later spotted Schettino on land as the evacuation unfolded. The officers urged him to return to his ship and honor his duty to stay aboard until everyone was safely off the vessel, but he ignored them, Coast Guard Cmdr. Francesco Paolillo said.
Schettino insisted he didn't leave the liner early, telling Mediaset television that he had done everything he could to save lives. "We were the last ones to leave the ship," he said.
The last ones to leave the ship, huh?  Through CBS News, the Italian newspaper Corriere della Sera has produced evidence that might refute that claim:
The newspaper Corriere della Sera has posted online what it states is an audio recording and transcript of phone communications early Saturday morning between Schettino and the Coast Guard commander at the port of Livorno, who is heard pleading with the captain to return to his ship until all aboard had been safely evacuated.

Audio: Corriere della Sera

In a translation released by Reuters, Gregorio De Falco, the port captain at Livorno, is heard ordering Schettino - who said he was in a lifeboat - back to the Costa Concordia:

Coast Guard: "Listen Schettino, there are people trapped on board. Now you need to go on your life boat, under the bow of the ship on the side. There is a ladder. You need to climb up the ladder and board the ship. Get on board and report to me how many people there are. Is that clear?. . . . "
Schettino: "At this moment the ship is tilted."
Coast Guard: "I understand. Listen, there are people who are coming down the ladder on the bow. Go back in the opposite direction, get back on the ship, and tell me how many people there are and what they have on board. . . . Tell me if there are children, women and what type of help they need. And you tell me the number of each of these categories. Is that clear? . . . Listen Schettino, perhaps you have saved yourself from the sea but I will make you look very bad. I will make you pay for this. Dammit, go back on board!"
Schettino: "Please . . . "
Coast Guard: "There is no please about it. Go back on board. Assure me you are going back on board!"
Schettino: "I am in the life boat, under the ship, I haven't gone anywhere, I'm here."
Coast Guard: "What are you doing?"
Schettino: "I am coordinating . . . "
Coast Guard: "What are you coordinating there? Go on board! Coordinate the rescue from on board! Are you refusing?"
Schettino: "No, I am not refusing."
Coast Guard: "Tell me the reason why you are not going back on board."
Schettino: "There is another life boat ... "
Coast Guard: "You go back on board! That is an order! There is nothing else for you to consider. You have sounded the 'abandon ship.' Now I am giving the orders. Go back on board. Is that clear? Don't you hear me?"
Schettino: "I am going on board."
Coast Guard: "Go! Call me immediately when you are on board. My rescue people are in front of the bow."
The Coast Guard said Schettino defied their entreaties to return to his ship as the chaotic evacuation of some 4,200 people was in progress.  
CNN played the audio.  Even though it is in Italian (which I am still in the process of learning) you can tell the Italian Coast Guard commander is absolutely furious.  Frederick Sherman (who was the last one to leave his sinking ship, the aircraft carrier U.S.S. Lexington during the Battle of the Coral Sea) Schettino was not.

And it gets worse:
Corriere della Sera also reports that the crew mutinied, ordering passengers into lifeboats before the captain issued an abandon ship order.
I'm not sure I'd call that a "mutiny."  It sounds more like some of the crew panicked and wanted to get off the ship, but did not want to be seen leaving before the passengers, as happened on the Andrea Doria, so they ordered the passengers off.  Or maybe the crew was more competent than their captain, realized the ship was sinking and took action, though based on the reports I am seeing that seems unlikely.  AllahPundit also puts it differently:
[Schettino] wasn’t the only one who put himself first. While some passengers behaved heroically, crew members were spotted leaping into lifeboats while people ran around screaming on deck.
So does Power Line:
Captain Schettino apparently left the ship’s waiters and chefs, and a group of British dancers, to look after the ship’s 4,000 passengers.  Is that some kind of metaphor for our era?
For all you neanderthals who make fun of dancers, especially male dancers and especially male ballet dancers, as being sissies or somehow less than tough, you can shut up and crawl back into your caves now.

This, then, sounds a lot like the Andrea Doria sinking, in which much of the crew abandoned ship ahead of the passengers.  That was a major embarrassment for Italy, so it is understandable that the prosecutor for Tuscany is taking the actions of the captain and crew here very seriously.

As an aside, though, Power Line is not alone in asking if the Costa Concordia accident has a deeper meaning.  Bob Krumm is pondering the same thing, and may have some uncomfortable answers:
[T]here is a great deal of debate over the failure of the “women and children first” rule to apply to the crash of the Costa Concordia.  It would appear that the consensus opinion is that either: (a) this is evidence of the coarsening of society in the hundred years since the wreck of the Titanic, or (b) this is evidence of the “victory” of the women’s right movement to overcome not just the barriers of sexism, but also its protections.
I would like to suggest a third reason, but one that is no less troubling in its implications:  the chaos came about because it was an Italian ship.
Last night I had dinner with some Canadian friends who also live here in Germany.  They had just returned from a ski weekend and we shared the same observation.   It is on crowded Alpine slopes where one learns first-hand of the vast differences in how various nationalities approach the concept of order.
Formed by the collision of the European and Mediterranean tectonic plates, this mountain range is a metaphoric division of two very different cultures.  It is on this boundary where the residents of those two cultures meet on holiday weekends.
The British queue even if it’s a queue of one.  Should an interloper attempt to cut the lift line, the English response is to politely inform the intruder that there is a queue.  Germans also queue, but they aren’t polite to the interloper.  They crossly inform intruders, in German, that they are in the wrong.  The occasional American skiing the Alps tends to start off polite like the Brit, however, should the line-cutter not oblige, is apt to forcefully enforce the queue.  All three nationalities, along with Scandinavians, Dutch, Austrians, Swiss, and the rare Canuck, share the same basic recognition that those already in the queue have higher priority, and will therefore “wait their turn.”
Italians, especially southern Italians, do not respect this concept on the slopes.  Those already ahead of them when they arrive at the lift are an obstacle to be overcome, not to be waited out.  Pushing, elbows, and skiing across the top of your own skis are all permitted according to Italian rules.
You see this on the roads too.  On the autobahns of Germany, the right lane is where you drive unless you are passing, after which you return immediately to the right.  It is this adherance to order that makes it possible for trucks travelling 100 kilometers per hour to co-exist with cars moving twice as fast.  On Italy’s autostrada, two lanes is just a suggestion.  Three cars abreast is not uncommon, as a faster car coming upon two slower travellers, passes his way forward, often on the right.
For all the heard about the anarchy of driving in Italy, I did not see much of it on my visit there, which admittedly was limited to Rome, Orvieto, Florence and part of Tuscany, on city streets or the freeway.  Crossing the street in Rome is dangerous, to be sure, because pedestrians do not have the protections there that they have in the US, for example. But I did not see a lot of red light-running or not sticking to lanes. The worst that I saw was motorcycles, scooters and bicycles (very popular over there; I noted a number of these machines ridden by miniskirted professional women, which I have never seen in the US) zipping between lanes and some bizarre parking (outside my hotel I saw two cars parked next to each other, separated by -- I am not exaggerating here -- about an inch between their doors). 

My parents told me that on their trips they had no particularly dangerous experiences with the allegedly notorious traffic in Rome.  They think the real traffic anarchy is not in Rome but in Naples, and wonder if Rome is getting the rap that really belongs to Naples.  Having never been to Naples, I can't really comment on that, but I will point out that there are significant cultural differences between parts of Italy (Italians don't really see themselves as one country or one people), and southern Italy, of which Naples is a part, is very different from Rome, which is different that northern Italy.

But back to the Costa Concordia, there remains the question of why the ship was so close to the Isola de Giglio in the first place.  The answer may be simple stupidity:

Questions also swirled about why the ship had navigated so close to the dangerous reefs and rocks that jut off Giglio's eastern coast, amid suspicions the captain may have ventured too close while carrying out a maneuver to entertain tourists on the island.
The ship's owner, Costa Crociere SpA, issued a statement late Sunday saying it was working with investigators to determine "precisely what went wrong aboard the Costa Concordia."
"While the investigation is ongoing, preliminary indications are that there may have been significant human error on the part of the ship's master, Captain Francesco Schettino, which resulted in these grave consequences," the statement said. "The route of the vessel appears to have been too close to the shore, and the captain's judgment in handling the emergency appears to have not followed standard Costa procedures."
Residents of Giglio said they had never seen the Costa come so close to the dangerous "Le Scole" reef area.
"This was too close, too close," said Italo Arienti, a 54-year-old sailor who has worked on the Maregiglio ferry between Giglio and the mainland for more than a decade. Pointing to a nautical map, he drew his finger along the path the ship usually takes and the jarring one close to shore that it followed Friday.
The ship was a mere 150 yards (meters) from shore at the time of the grounding, ANSA quoted Grosseto prosecutor Francesco Verusio as saying.
Schettino insisted he was twice as far out and said the ship ran aground because the rocks weren't marked on his nautical charts.
However, he did concede he was maneuvering the ship in "touristic navigation"—implying a route that was a deviation from the norm and designed to entertain the tourists.
"We were navigating approximately 300 meters (yards) from the rocks," he told Mediaset television. "There shouldn't have been such a rock. On the nautical chart it indicated that there was water deep below."
Costa captains have occasionally steered the ship near port and sounded the siren in a special salute, Arienti said. Such a nautical "fly-by" was staged last August, prompting the town's mayor to send a note of thanks to the commander for the treat it provided tourists who flock to the island, local news portal GiglioNews.it reported.
But Arienti and other residents said even on those occasions, the cruise ship always stayed far offshore, well beyond the reach of the "Le Scole" reefs.
"Every so often they would do a greeting, but not so close—far away, safely," said resident Giacomo Dannipale.
Douglas Ward, a cruise expert and author of the 2012 Berlitz guide to cruises, said the waters around Giglio are too shallow for such maneuvers.
Gee, ya think?

The Italian cruise liner Costa Concordia lies half-sunk just off the coast of Isola del Giglio, Tuscany, Italy.  Investigators are trying to determine if the ship came too close to the island.  Photo from Reuters.

I suppose that may be a bit unfair.  According to the CNN report I saw this afternoon, which was very nicely researched and presented by Michael Holmes, in spite of the refusal of that noted maritime expert Wolf Blitzer to shut his pie hole for more than two seconds at a time, the ship was turning to do the "fly by" when it "skidded" into a rock.  The rock gashed the hull, broke off and lodged inside.  (CNN has video of a similar Michael Holmes report here.)  In the photo below, taken by Roberto Voghner, you can see the gash created by the rock and, at the stern (right) end of the gash, the rock itself.

The damage to the Italian cruise liner Costa Concordia.  Visible in the left center is the gash in the ship's port side caused by hitting the rock.  At the center, in the stern end of the gash, is the rock itself, lodged in the hull.  Photo by Robert Voghner.
According to Holmes' afternoon report, the ship continued until Schettino realized it was in trouble.  Then he tried to turn the ship to port and bring it closer to shore, but by that point the liner had taken on too much water.  The port turn caused a capsize to starboard.

As for the cause of the "fly by," CBS News tells a different story.

The cruise operator has said Schettino strayed from the ship's authorized course into waters too close to the perilous reef.
The nautical version of a "fly by" was apparently a favor to the chief waiter who is from Giglio and whose parents live on the island, local media reported. Prosecutor Francesco Verusio called Schettino's maneuver "reckless" and "inexcusable."
The fly by itself doesn't seem like it was not all that out of standard procedure.  It was just handled incompetently.  Probably would be a better idea to actually plot these fly bys instead of, say, doing it on the fly.

In the meantime, CNN has an interesting story on what to do with the hulk of the Costa Concordia.

1 comment:

  1. AS usual, the CNN link didn't go to the video you were referring to. If you be so kind as to spell out what CNN proposed to do with the wreck?

    Just an aside, but most Carnival (Fun Ships) ships have traditionally been led by Italian officers as well. Other Carnival companies probably retain their traditional officer complements though, as it helps provides some of the distinction or cachet of each individual brand.