The Costa Concordia accident provides a number of operational safety warnings similarly applicable to large superyachts as to the cruise ship fleet, including due care when sailing close to shore, awareness of all navigation systems without over-reliance on one, and the importance of regular abandon ship drills.

A collision with rocks caused the 290-metre cruise ship Costa Concordia to partly submerge in waters by the Isola del Giglio off the Tuscan coast
on the evening of Friday 13 January. From the 4,200 people on board, at present six passengers have been confirmed dead and 29 are currently unaccounted for by the local rescue team.


The Costa Concordia submerged
in waters off the Osola del Giglio
(Getty Images)

The ship's commanding officer, Captain Francesco Schettino, 52, has been detained by the Italian authorities on suspicion of manslaughter and is due to appear in court shortly.

Costa Cruises blames the captain for sailing too close to the shoreline and causing the impact with the rocks:

"It seems that the commander has made an error of judgment [which] had serious consequences: the route followed by the ship was too close to the coast, and it seems that its decisions in emergency management have not followed the
Costa Cruises procedures that are in line with, and in some cases go beyond, international standards," said the cruise ship company, a subsidiary of British-American Carnival Corporation & Plc., in a statement released on Sunday evening.

Captain Schettino has responded, saying the navigational charts being used on the bridge at the time of the collision placed the ship 300 metres from the reef and potential threats of impact, his lawyer stated on his behalf. The captain steered closer to shore after the impact in order to make it easier for those on board to reach the shore, he continued.


The view of the top deck partially submerged
(Getty Images)

The damage to the Fincantieri-built vessel, which was launched in 2006, has rendered it beyond saving and Smit & Salvage has been instructed to limit the local environmental damage with a containment barrier, continued the Costa Cruises statement. Today controlled explosions were set off to enter the vessel's previously inaccessible areas.

The Judiciary has submitted to seize the ship and the VDR - the so-called "black box". Costa Cruises can then access the ship only with the permission of authorities.


THE ACCIDENT

After the first impact at 9.45pm, the Costa Concordia started taking on water through a 50m hole in the starboard hull and the first alarm was sounded with orders to abandon ship 45 minutes later; the coastguard was alerted approximately an hour after the collision, report various sources. The ship initially listed to the port side, then the starboard.

Importantly, Captain Schettino reportedly disembarked some hours before the last passengers believed to be on board were taken ashore. A transcript purportedly of conversations between the captain and the coastguard has emerged in the Italian media - apparently drawn from one of the ship's black box recorders - which appears to corroborate the claims that the captain left the ship before all the passengers escaped, says BBC News.

Cabin steward Deodato Ordona told BBC News his colleagues and passengers were waiting to use port-side lifeboats but due to the fast rate of water intake resulting in listing to the starboard, many lifeboats were unable to reach the water before gravity prevented them from being fully released. Crowding would have been exacerbated with the increased passengers seeking lifeboats on the other side of the ship. Many passengers swam to shore.

CROWD MANAGEMENT DIFFICULTIES & NAVIGATION PRACTICES

There have been widespread reports of difficulties with the crowd management due to panic and pandemonium as the crew tried to fill the lifeboats, with cooperation problems from passengers not wanting to break up their parties.

Although the officers will have taken courses in crowd management as part of their training, and the cruise line operates fortnightly on board abandon ship drills for all staff as standard, the unrest from the passengers on board was too much to contain.

Captain Mike Hitch, who was an officer on board cruise ships for seven years and subsequently has been working on board large luxury yachts for 26 years, says that all the preparation and training in the world can only go so far in helping control a crowd when a situation such as this arises:

"We all do boat drills and try to make them as realistic as possible, but when you have a major problem like this, what you can never factor in is the human element, including panic, fear and adrenalin. While you might have plans, I can picture trying to control over 4,000 passengers in this scenario; people will be running everywhere and they are hard to control. With the fatalities that have happened, considering the total number of people on board and the listing preventing port-side lifeboat release and increased volume of people to the starboard side to reach the useable lifeboats, I think the crew did very well.

"Even on very large yachts you would not have the same volume of people on board, so the same problems would not arise. And on yachts we have the opportunities to practice drills much more. Whereas the turnarounds between cruise ship trips are in a day, on yachts we have more time to train.

"I think the biggest problem we face now is electronic navigation. Nobody knows how to navigate any other way. I have seen this with younger officers coming on my ship; if you take away the ECDIS [electronic chart display information system] system, they are completely paralysed. I have personally experienced it with new crew who have come on board from a cruise background. People rely too much on computers and GPS; they don't look out of the window any more."






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