I’ve watched television images of the wrecked cruise liner Costa Concordia with a sense of total disbelief.
How can such a modern ship end up on her side metres from an island off the Italian mainland?
It really does look like a scene out of a movie, with people on the rocky shoreline looking down on to the ship’s swimming pools and funnel. But it’s very real.
Costa Concordia is big, very big. She is equal to P&O’s biggest ships, the Ventura and Azura. Having sailed on Ventura myself, it is hard to comprehend how a ship of this size and splendour can end up capsized with seven lives lost and many more passengers still unaccounted for.
My experiences of sailing on cruise liners from Southampton have impressed upon me the importance of safety. We had muster drills before departure and we witnessed continual safety exercises on the ships.
On one occasion, we didn’t call at one port due to strong winds, even though the sea didn’t appear too rough.
But with all the most stringent of procedures coupled with the most modern of navigational aids, it’s impossible to account for human error – if that proves to be what happened in the case of the Costa Concordia.
As for Captain Francesco Schettino, I was amazed at reports that he jumped into a lifeboat some time before passengers and crew had been evacuated. Surely he should have stayed with his stricken ship as long as possible, helping to co-ordinate efforts to get people to safety?
Stories are now circulating about why the ship was so close to a reef off the island of Giglio. Was a sail-by not only in honour of an officer who lives on the island, but also to impress the head waiter, whose family apparently also live there?
Last year the ship sailed even closer when a festival was being held on Giglio. But I’ve read reports that that was sanctioned by the company.
This latest manoeuvre certainly wasn’t. Costa Concordia’s owners, Costa Cruises, said Captain Schettino hit the rocks because he deliberately steered the ship towards the island.
After this, will the Costa Cruises name survive? Remember what happened to Townsend Thoresen?