The Costa Concordia disaster, which has claimed at least 13 lives, has shocked the world. But maritime experts say such a catastrophe was just a matter of time. In recent years, the cruise industry has been building ever-bigger ships in pursuit of profit — and disregarding the dangers the giant vessels pose. This article was written by Spiegel journalists whose names are provided at the end of the article.
On the Tuscan island of Giglio, the night sky is clear and the stars are out. Three men are sitting among the cacti and lemon trees near the cliffs behind the harbor. When the weather is nice, couples come here at sunset to make out.
It’s Thursday night of last week. Seven days have now passed since the Costa Concordia ran aground off the coast of Italy.
The moon is shining as the men stare at the wreckage of the capsized cruise ship, not far from the harbor entrance. Two of the men are local Italians from the island, who have spent the last few days in a desperate struggle, and who have saved many lives in the process. They are comforting the third man, an Indian from Mumbai, who is still hoping for a miracle.
The Indian, Kevin Rebello, misses his brother Russell, 33. Russell was a steward on the Concordia and had been traveling the world’s oceans for the last five years. Russell had assured his family that he earned good tips in his job, and told them they shouldn’t worry about him — this type of ship couldn’t sink. The brother still believes that Russell survived in an air pocket somewhere in the belly of the ship.
The shipping company flew Kevin Rebello in, as it did other relatives of victims from places like Peru, Hungary and France. He has to be close to his brother now, he says, which is why he is waiting in this spot.
The two Italians talking to Rebello are Giovanni Rossi, 42 and Mario Pellegrini, 48. Both are sons of fishermen from Giglio. One owns a tobacco shop and the other is the deputy mayor. They too are trying to sort through their thoughts and clear their heads. They have been managing the rescue effort at the pier for the last week and have had little sleep.
Pellegrini, who is wearing metal-rimmed glasses and a blue winter coat, says he is optimistic, and points out that there have been other cases where such air bubbles have existed.
Rossi, in a baseball cap and sailor’s sweater, looks out at the fire department boats circling the ship. He doesn’t believe there are any survivors left, but of course he doesn’t say this to Rebello.
A Sound Like Thunder
He recounts how it all began on that evening of Jan. 13. He was in his small house in the old part of the town when, at 9:45 p.m., he heard something that sounded like distant thunder: a crash followed by a rumbling noise, which lasted a few seconds. Rossi was startled and jumped up from his sofa, ran to the window and looked down at the harbor.
Then he saw the Concordia. It was closer than usual, but he didn’t think anything of it. He sat back down on the sofa and hoped that the rumbling was the beginning of a thunderstorm. It hadn’t rained in weeks, and Rossi owns two hectares (five acres) of land.
Pellegrini, Rossi’s friend since kindergarten, called him a short time later. Something terrible had happened, Pellegrini shouted into the phone. The loud noise wasn’t thunder but the sound of a ship running aground on one of the rocks. The ship had slammed into rocks near the harbor, which are difficult to recognize, and now it was stuck. “I’ll be right there,” Pellegrini said breathlessly. “We have to evacuate the passengers. There must be thousands.”
The Costa Concordia, with more than 4,200 people on board, had rammed into a rocky ledge off the shore of Giglio, and it capsized soon afterwards. The death toll is now at 13 people, after a woman’s body was pulled from the ship on Sunday. About 24 are still missing, including 12 Germans.
Many here believed that a disaster of such proportions was impossible. Cruise ship industry executives are constantly touting the safety of their ships. The Concordia is more than 290 meters (950 feet) long and more than 35 meters wide. It is a ship in the post-Panamax class, which means that it is too big to traverse the Panama Canal. And yet, despite its enormous size, the giant ship ran aground off Giglio, where it now stands at a grotesque angle, looking like a tipped-over toy boot. The rocks have torn open the hull as if the ship were a tin of sardines.
The Concordia was built at a cost of €450 million ($585 million). The fashion model Eva Herzigová christened the vessel in the summer of 2006, but the champagne bottle did not smash against the hull the first time around. A bad omen for suspicious mariners, it triggered gasps among guests at the ceremony. Now the salvage effort and claims for damages will consume hundreds of millions yet again. In the end, this will likely become one of the most expensive shipping disasters of all time. The total loss could amount to $1 billion, a London banker estimated last week.
The images of the disaster went around the world like a shock wave last week. A dream vessel had turned into a nightmare. It was almost as if a bomb had exploded in Disneyland.
It is a story of serious recklessness and swagger, of a man’s grotesque mistake and of irresponsible maneuvers. This, at any rate, is the way executives in the cruise business want to portray it. In fact, however, the case of the Costa Concordia is a warning sign for the entire global industry.
It is also a story of competitive pressure in the business, of billions in profits and of a booming market in which only those who keep building bigger and bigger ships can keep up. The largest ships can already carry 8,000 people, and soon the capacity will be 10,000 — despite the fact that maritime experts continually point out the perils of these floating cities.
According to the German website of the Italian Costa shipping company, the Concordia was an “impressive and magnificent” cruise ship. It describes the ship as a “temple of pleasure” that “will take your breath away,” with 1,500 cabins, 13 bars and four swimming pools. The guest, the site reads, could expect to experience “a one-of-a-kind vacation with an endless number of experiences.”
‘Moments When Something Unpredictable Happens’
The ship was commanded by Captain Francesco Schettino, 52, a handsome man with the look of an aging gigolo. He grew up on Italy’s Amalfi coast. “He loves the sea,” says his sister Giulia. “He has always worked as an officer.”
Schettino joined Costa Cruises in 2002, first as a second officer. Four years later he was promoted to captain, and put in command of the brand-new Concordia.
Some of his colleagues see him as a daredevil. Last year, Schettino told a Czech journalist: “I enjoy moments when something unpredictable happens, when you can diverge a bit from standard procedures.”
Almost exactly four weeks before the disaster, he demonstrated his approach to his crew. The Concordia was at anchor in the port of Marseille, while a storm with wind speeds of 50 to 60 knots raged out in the open water. “We expected that we would not sail that day,” recalled officer Martino Pellegrino.
But Schettino assembled the entire crew on the bridge and ordered them to set sail. His words were met with icy silence among the officers. “We looked at each other,” said Pellegrino, “but we didn’t have the energy to disagree.” Schettino then drove the Concordia through the choppy waters at full throttle. The 56,000-horsepower engines drove the 50,000-ton ship through the breakers, a show that few other men could pull off. Everything went well, and it seemed that Schettino was in control of his ship and knew what he was doing out in the open water.
The problem was that he didn’t have enough fear of the sea.
Escaping On Crutches
The retiree Karlheinz Knapp, 64, and his wife Angelika, 62, live in a small house in the Oberrad neighborhood of Frankfurt. The Knapps have seen their fair share of cruise ships, and have visited more than 100 countries over the years. They were on another cruise in December, a week in the western Mediterranean on board the Serena, another Costa ship. They are members of the “Costa Club,” the company’s bonus program.
For their voyage on board the Concordia, a seven-night cruise, the Knapps paid €449 per person. They stayed in interior cabin 2353, with two beds and a table, but no window.
Karlheinz Knapp, who had an operation on his left knee last September, still walks on crutches. It almost cost him his life. “I often have to think about the passengers in wheelchairs,” Knapp says today. “What happened to them? You don’t want to think about it.”
For the Knapps, the last part of their voyage began with dinner. On that night, the Concordia was supposed to sail from Civitavecchia near Rome to Savona. The couple decided not to attend the magician’s show, as they usually did. Instead, they went to their cabin to pack. The suitcases had to be placed in front of the cabins, ready for pickup, by 1 a.m. The Knapps were to disembark in Savona at 6 a.m.
The Concordia sailed throughout the night, traveling on a north-northwesterly course, in a light wind and on a soft groundswell. The captain wanted to pass to the east of the small island of Giglio, near the town of Giglio Porto. But Schettino himself was apparently not on the bridge.
A passenger would later tell an Italian newspaper that he had seen the captain in the ship’s finest restaurant, wearing a dark uniform and in the company of a blonde about half his age. The couple were laughing and drinking wine, “at least half a decanter,” according to the passenger.
The woman was Domnica Cemortan, 25, a native of Moldova, one of the many Costa employees from very poor countries. Apparently the captain took her with him to the bridge soon afterwards, perhaps hoping to impress her. She would later say that she did not leave the bridge again until shortly before midnight. And she would also defend Schettino, saying that he had performed exceptionally well and had saved lives.
‘We’ll Sound The Siren For You’
It was shortly after 9:30 p.m. when the drama began. The Concordia was bearing down on Giglio at 15 knots, which was much too fast. Schettino, the first officer, the second officer and a female officer were standing on the bridge. The captain changed course by a few degrees, passing very close by the island.
Schettino would later tell investigators that he had intended to salute a great old man: Mario Palombo, a retired captain. Palombo was at sea for 43 years, including 23 years with Costa. Schettino served as a first officer under Palombo. And Palombo has a house on Giglio.
While the ship was bearing on the island, Schettino called Palombo on his mobile phone. He allegedly told him to look outside and that they would shortly be sailing past his island. “We’ll sound the siren for you,” he said.
Italian mariners refer to this greeting from a passing ship as a “bow.” This would be the last bow from on board the Concordia. Palombo had apparently just called back to say that he wasn’t on Giglio at the moment, but on the mainland, when the ship ran aground and the connection was lost. It was 9:45 p.m., and at that moment, about 50 meters below the bridge, a rock was tearing a massive hole into the left side of theConcordia. The hole was about 70 meters long, and hundreds of tons of water began pouring into the ship.
‘Up To My Neck’
Palombo immediately called a friend on Giglio to find out what had happened. The friend told him that he could see a ship off the shore, but that it was much too close. Palombo tried to reach Schettino again, and then he allegedly called the shipping company.
Immediately after the crash, as Officer Giovanni Iaccarino would later testify, Schettino ordered him to climb down into the engine room. When he got there, the room was full of water. “The water was up to my neck,” Iaccarino said. He saw that the engines had stopped running and the pumps were not working, although at least the backup generator was on. The officer called the bridge and, shouting over the noise in the background, told the captain what he could see. At that point, Schettino should have given the order to bring the passengers to safety.
But when a Costa executive called Schettino at 10:05 p.m., and again two minutes later, Schettino allegedly told him that there were a few problems. This hasn’t been proven beyond a doubt. Witnesses sometimes don’t remember things correctly, especially when it comes to the question of culpability and when the alarm should have been sounded, and by whom.
Given all the things the witnesses said in the days after the disaster, it would seem to be a case of negligent homicide. In the end, only the Italian courts will be able to decide who exactly gave which orders, and when. Italian prosecutors are trying to determine whether Schettino did in fact react incorrectly, or whether the shipping company had hoped to postpone what would likely be a very costly evacuation for as long as possible.
But one thing is clear: Schettino did not say that he had just wrecked his €450-million ship, and that people were about to lose their lives. He didn’t send a mayday signal either, at least not until 10:58 p.m.
Problems With The Data
In the days after the disaster, Schettino admitted that he had wanted to send a greeting to his friend on the island, and that something had gone wrong during the maneuver. But his statements on the course of events were contradictory. On one occasion, he said that he had been “navigating by sight,” but before that he had said that the rock did not appear on maps.
This could very well be true. Although the rock is clearly visible on traditional paper nautical maps, modern ship bridges are equipped with monitors that use the so-called ECDIS system. It combines electronic nautical charts with data from the satellite navigation receiver and the radar equipment. It also uses the ship’s sonar and the relatively new AIS anti-collision system.
But the high-tech system is not perfect. “ECDIS representations are only as good as the data you enter. And there are serious problems with the user interface and the ergonomics,” says Andrew Linington, a spokesman for Nautilus International, the union for maritime professionals. Sometimes the digital charts made by the various manufacturers are not 100 percent correct. For example, some errors only appear at certain magnification levels. The investigators will have to clarify this.
The equipment can also be set to issue alarm signals to warn against shallows, a ship deviating from its course, other ships or danger zones — producing a cacophony of noise that encourages some captains to simply ignore the signals.
Costa Cruises, at any rate, is blaming Schettino. The fact that he diverged from the planned course was the result of “a maneuver that was not approved, not authorized nor communicated to Costa,” the company’s chairman said. He insisted that his ships would never come closer than 500 meters from Giglio.
The Boring Ocean
But that is not the whole story. Part of the reality is that many cruise-ship companies are faced with bitter competition and gamble with the lives of their passengers as a result.
The Concordia had already passed the island at very close range once before, last August. In fact, it was even closer that time, only 230 meters from the shore, which is highly dangerous for a ship that is 290 meters long. But that time the Concordia was coming from a slightly different angle.
Specialists with the insurance company Lloyd’s of London keep the position data of ships on file, which allows them to reconstruct every voyage. On that day last August, the officers in charge of the Concordia took a great risk, because there was a big festival in the island’s tiny harbor that evening and they wanted the ship to be part of it.
Cruise lines want to offer their passengers something special, because the open ocean is in fact pretty boring to look at. That was why, for example, Schettino also sailed the Concordia close past the island of Procida near Naples in August 2010.
In the wake of the Concordia disaster, the Italian government is now drafting a ban on reckless maneuvers in overly tight spaces. This could be disastrous for the booming industry, which is raking in billions.
In the last five years, European shipyards have delivered almost 50 new ships to shipping companies, each one more enormous and powerful than the next.
The worldwide market leader is Carnival Cruises, with 25 subsidiaries and more than 100 cruise ships. Carnival owns both the ill-fated Costa and Aida, a company based in the northern German port city of Rostock.
The owner of this cruise-ship empire is Micky Arison, one of the most colorful figures in the industry. Arison, who also owns the Miami Heat basketball team, has an estimated net worth of more than $4 billion. His father Ted was one of the founders of Carnival.
The younger Arison started his career selling bingo cards on his father’s ships. “When I took over operations in 1979, we had $44 million in sales and $12 million in profits,” he says. Not bad, but merely a drop in the proverbial ocean compared to today’s sales of about $16 billion, with a company that employs 85,000 people.
Close to 19 million people a year go on cruises worldwide. Germany is the third-largest market, after the United States and Great Britain, with more than 1.3 million customers in 2011 — 48 percent more than it was three years ago.
Source: http://freeinternetpress.com/Tags: Apps, Bing