"Poor Judgement at Sea"
By Capt. Fred Davis
Published: Friday, January 27, 2012

I’m aware many of my readers have been expecting me to give my opinion of the cruise ship Costa Concordia disaster.

There have been daily reports of the position of the ship and the finding of additional bodies, missing since the grounding occurred off the coast of Italy.

Proposals regarding the ships removal are put forth daily. Latest reports note there is a plan to retrieve the estimated 2,200 metric tons of heavy fuel oil and 185 metric tons of diesel fuel and lubricants stored in the tanks in the bottom of the hull. The Dutch salvage company Smit is planning to pump the fuel out of the 17 tanks and transport it to a waiting oil tanker with emergency recovery equipment onboard.

Although the fuel removal operation may sound like a simple maneuver, there will be many problems to overcome. Some will be out of anyone’s control. Weather may prohibit them from accomplishing their objectives and could even cause the entire vessel to sink in an estimated 250 feet of water adjacent to the ledge the ship is lying on. This problem could occur because of bad weather, plus the variances of ballast. Removal of the fuel from the tanks will change the weight at the lowest point of the ship, which could allow the boat to slide toward the drop off said to be within a few yards.

We can all agree, cruise ships are built top heavy with their multiple decks and therefore require extensive weight in the lower sections to maintain an upright position. Although the Costa Concordia is lying on its side, if the tanks become buoyant or even lighter than they presently are, it seems likely to me the vessel will shift. The 230-foot (earlier reports said it was 160-foot) gash in the hull also could contribute to the change in ballast, making the hull unstable and unsteady even as it presently lies.

I have heard conflicting reports offered by salvage company officials who all seem to be unsure of how to proceed. If they salvage it, where will they put it? I heard one plan that suggested attaching cables from shore to hold it in place while salvage attempts are made. I wonder what size cable could possibly be used. If one snapped, might more do the same? If this were to happen, it would not only endanger lives, but could severely damage equipment and boats; a snapped cable could cut a work boat in half.

Once all weight and balance factors are taken into account, I would not be surprised to see the ship dismantled right where she sits; piece by piece. In doing this, portions could be taken ashore and perhaps some items salvaged for reuse.

I am not professing to know how the job should be done just because I have salvaged many small, recreational craft. I just recognize the difficulty of the undertaking. Whatever actions are taken, the job will take years to complete and danger and high risks will prevail. We can only hope there will be no further loss of life.

As I see it, the Costa Concordia, valued at $500 million, and the lives and property lost resulted from the actions of one man — Capt. Francesco Schettino. He alone made the decision to override the electronics and steer his ship into shallow waters. He claimed he had made this maneuver three or four times. That statement makes me question if the operators of the cruise line were ever made aware of his previous actions. Currently, he is claiming he was told by them to take that route as a “publicity move.” Persons interviewed on shore reported they had witnessed the ship passing near shore in the past. Some locals reported the ship had passed so close it could be hit with a thrown stone. A man interviewed, who was aboard the grounded ship, said he felt he could almost touch the shore.

Stories told by survivors as well as the dramatic photos, plus the captain’s ever-changing accounts of events puzzle me. If multiple counts of manslaughter, plus the act of abandoning ship are filed, why has this man been released to house arrest?

This incident will present an ill reflection on all cruise lines for years to come. That fact is simply unfair. A cruise vacation is a great way to receive a lot for a small fee. It’s a wonderful value. I have traveled on cruise ships of all sizes since I was 10 years old and never had a moment’s concern. I have never cruised on a ship that did not have an on-deck muster as soon as the captain took the helm from the pilot. The muster is to be certain all souls on board are aware of how to find and put on a personal floatation device (PFD) and where to report to a lifeboat if necessary. Most of the larger cruise ships are of foreign registry. The reason for this is to avoid the rigorous inspections and high fees associated with operating under the U.S. flag. Most crews are foreign born, coming from countries all over the globe.

I have a question regarding the use of recordings such as the black box recovered from the ship. Doesn’t anyone ever review these recorders? If the Concordia ship’s company had done so, they would have been made aware of the captain’s prior action of running close to shore.

Please do not judge all captains by the behavior of Capt. Schettino — his total disregard for his ship’s safety and cowardly behavior sets him apart. He stands alone in the annals of men of the sea.




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