Mission Impossible: Evacuating Behemoths at Sea

The Miami Herald's article today (by Hannah Sampson) regarding what is described as the "behemoths at sea" raises a basic question - how can you safely evacuate 5,000 passengers and 2,000 crew members from one of these "super-size" cruise ships?

The answer is simple, you can't. 

Maritime regulations require the task to be completed in just 30 minutes. Several retired Coast Guard officials (who didn't sell out and join the cruise industry) tell me that there is no way that a cruise ship like Royal Allure of the SeasCaribbean's Oasis, Allure or the to-be-built Harmony can accomplish this feat. 

It doesn't seem like the cruise lines have much confidence that they can either. Quite frankly, they don't seem to think that they have an obligation to do so. Ms. Hannah interviewed a dozen cruise executives and managers, including Carnival chief maritime officer William Burke who said "big ships are inherently more safe than the smaller ships . . . and so as a result, there is less likelihood of ever needing a lifeboat.”

Royal Caribbean’s global chief communications officer Rob Zeiger echoed this we-really-don't-need-a-lifeboat sentiment telling Ms. Sampson: “These things are designed now on the theory that the ship is its own best safety vessel. It’s as much about designing them to remain stable and in motion as anything else.”

Of course this is same mentality that doomed a thousand souls on the deck of the sinking cruise liner Titanic over a hundred years ago.  

Two years ago, I pointed out in Titanic Redux that the Allure and the Oasis were designed not to have enough lifeboats for all of the crew and passengers. The crew, and maybe some passengers, will have to jump down a chute into a raft.  It's a dangerous procedure even if the weather is perfect and the ship is in port. But if the giant ship is engulfed in flames, experiencing storm conditions or heavy seas, or is far from port, the outcome will become a disaster.

Ms. Sampson interviewed one voice of reason in her article, Captain Bill Doherty (former safety manager for NCL), a director with Nexus Consulting Group. Captain Doherty said “You’ve got to get out there and you’ve got to physically assess your worst-case scenarios. Real time, real people, real hardware drills that clearly identify where the holes are."

The reality is that the cruise lines, which are in competition to build bigger and bigger ships, are not conducting such real life, worst-case-scenario drills. It's disturbing to hear Carnival and Royal Caribbean cavalierly tell Ms. Hannah that lifeboats may not really be needed after all.

I hate to think what the guests and crew will be thinking when they hear the captain announce "abandon ship" from one of these gigantic monsters floundering in the middle of the Atlantic.

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Photo Credit:  Jim Walker

How Do You Say Schettino in Korean? Captain of Sinking Ferry Among the First to Abandon Ship

The captain of the sunken ferry Korean ferry Sewol reportedly was one of the first to abandon ship and make it safely to shore.

Only one of the 47 lifeboats were deployed. The abandon ship order was not made until 30 minutes after the ferry began to sink.

There are around 275 people, mostly teenagers, missing at sea.

Does anyone know how to say Schettino in Korean?

Criminal Case Continues Against Captain Schettino - Island of Giglio Requests Compensation of 80,000,000 Euros

Giglio Costa ConcordiaA court in Italy is proceeding with preliminary hearings to consider evidence whether Captain Francesco Schettino will face trial for criminal charges for his involvement in the Costa Concordia disaster. 

Schettino, labelled "Captain Calamity" in the press, appeared at the proceedings yesterday, faces a trial on charges of manslaughter, causing a shipwreck and abandoning ship. 

The Italian prosecutors requested the indictment of four crew members in the case, including the ship's helmsman, as well as Costa employee Roberto Ferrarini, the head of Costa Crociere's "crisis unit" who is accused of delaying the evacuation of the cruise ships.

The island of Giglio, which is the site of the stricken vessel, has requested permission to sue Captain Schettino, alleging that the island's image as a beautiful tourist spot has been irreparably damaged by the disaster. The island's lawyers are seeking damages of 80 million euros.

The Costa Concordia remains in the water at the entrance to the island's harbor.  Image courtesy of Giglio News.

Costa Concordia Captain Schettino - Chicken of the Seas

The captain always goes down with the ship, the saying goes. 

Or at least the captain is the last to leave a sinking vessel.

But not on the Costa Concordia.

Passengers aboard the stricken Costa cruise ship say that they observed Italian Master Francesco Schettino draped in a blanket aboard a lifeboat heading to safety as the vessel's crew and passengers struggled for their lives.  There is also talk that the captain intentionally deviated from course to "buzz the island," which if true takes this case from sinple negligence to recklessness or intentional misconduct.   

Arrested in Rome for manslaughter and abandoning ship, Captain Schettino talked about "lateral projections of rocks" and other phantom rubbish, rather than his own foolishness, which tore the hull apart and doomed his cruise ship.  He boasted that he saved lives and was the last to leave the vessel, apparently forgetting about his chief purser who was trapped aboard the ship.  

The captain of a vessel is the supreme master of his ship at sea.  The captain is ultimately responsible not only for the safe navigation of the vessel, but for the discipline and order of the crew and the safety of all crew and passengers.

Initial reports suggest that Captain Schettino failed on all accounts.  In an unregulated industry which looks for a scapegoat, the cruise line will focus on an irresponsible and renegade captain as the sole cause of the disaster which unfolded this weekend.

If passenger accounts are correct, Captain Schettino will long be considered a coward who abandoned his responsibilities and duties after wrecking the Concordia and killing scores of innocents in the process.      

  

Francesco Schettino - Costa Concordia Captain - Abandon Ship

 

Photo credit:  Enzo Russo / EPA