Captain Schettino of the Costa Concordia is off to jail to start his 16-year sentence for manslaughter. Most of the dependents of the men lost with the Stellar Daisy have accepted offers of compensation.
With that, two spectacular losses of big ships, in fine weather, for no good reason, are swept safely off the news pages and under the carpet.
They were just ships. They just sank. In good weather. For no good reason.
“It happens all the time. Nothing to see here. Move along, please…”
Before these disasters disappear completely from our attention, let’s just take a final look.
First, the Costa Concordia.
Despite the loss of life, the sinking of this very large ship can be counted as some sort of a success – most of the passengers and crew survived. When a similar proportion of the passengers and crew survive a plane crash, we reckon that’s a pretty good outcome. The cruise ship industry has breathed a collective sigh of relief and almost every shipowner and almost every underwriter on this planet have chipped in to the absurd costs of the removal of the wreck, to the lasting benefit of Carnival Corporation’s reputation as good global citizens, if of no-one else.
The circumstances – a fine clear night with a gentle onshore breeze, and the proximity of a port – could hardly have been more favourable. Next time, things might well be different.
Having said that, the loss of this large modern ship on a fine clear night was a catastrophic failure of the Safety Management System of Costa Crociere.
There was no bridge team management, there was no procedure for undertaking a ‘fly-by’ (OK, ‘a deviation from the most direct track for the purposes of sight-seeing’ – all cruiseships do it). It’s not rocket science. Get the team together, look at the charts, look at the tides, think of the wind and the visibility, work out the safe route, lay down a parallel index, have a series of ‘escapes’ plotted for use in the event of something going wrong, talk to the engine room, brief the team and make sure they all know what the plan is, how it will be executed and what their roles are.
None of this happened aboard the Costa Concordia.
The ship sank, lives were lost – and Costa Crociere, who should have been held up to blistering ridicule and contempt, having failed to establish a safe system for doing so by way of the Safety Management System that the IMO requires of them, were let off the hook for a payment of a derisory – a contemptible – million dollars.
This is a disgrace. It is a disgrace to Costa Crociere, a disgrace to Carnival Corporation, a disgrace to the regulatory bodies charged with vetting Costa’s SMS DOC, a disgrace to the Italian legal system, a disgrace to EMSA, a disgrace to the IMO, and above all a disgrace to many well-paid men, and a few women, in all those bodies, who are sleeping at home in their comfortable beds, when many more of them should be in jail with Captain Schettino.
Our industry failed –it failed very badly – and the response has been to pass the buck and try, all too successfully, to hide from the unpleasant consequences, but the truth is that Costa, their parent company, Carnival, their regulators and their insurers have all been very, very lucky – saved by the kindness of the weather from the consequences of their incompetence.
The elephant in the room, here, is the reputation of Carnival – the most profitable business in the merchant shipping industry, sitting atop what is at best an oligopoly, if not indeed a quasi-monopoly, – their reputation as litigious ‘hard men’, who have the whole system – from class societies to P&I clubs to flag states – at their beck and call. Everyone in shipping fears them – and look what they just got away with. The fact that there are fleets within the Carnival empire that are much better managed than Costa were, is not an excuse for Carnival. It is evidence that Carnival didn’t care enough.
The ship sank, and people died, because her owners had a certified, ticked and bashed, Safety Management System that was not fit for purpose. And they have just got away with it.