Comments on the Costa Concordia Grounding 13 January 2012. Part 2: What do we currently know about the Costa Concordia Incident — written by Prof Ed Galea, 19 January 2012 11:40

As in most disasters of this type, so soon after the incident, information concerning the nature of this incident is far too sketchy to draw any firm conclusions.  Indeed, at the time of writing there are more questions than answers.  In my next few blogs I would like to make a few general comments related to issues associated with ship evacuation, and based on media accounts, attempt to put together a picture of what we currently know.  Finally, I would like to make some tentative comments about the incident and its repercussions for passenger ship safety.   In the second blog I want to discuss what we currently know about the Costa Concordia incident based on media accounts.

The world’s media has been flooded with accounts concerning the Costa Concordia. 

We know that the Costa Concordia left the port of Civitavecchia (just north of Rome) at 19:00.  The assembly drill had not been done and was planed for 17:00 the following day — within SOLAS requirements.  Also, the ship already had an undisclosed number of passengers onboard who were continuing on the cruise when she came into Civitavecchia and so these passengers would have already had the assembly drill.  In total it has been reported that there were 3206 passengers on board and 1023 crew, making a total of 4229 people on board.  We also know that the ship did not follow its pre-programmed route but was diverted to pass close by the Island of Giglio.  At this point in time it is not clear why the ship was diverted, but it appears to have been at the command of the Captain who wanted to “salute” a retired colleague on the Island.

From here on, things get confused.  According to one account:

“……Mr Ebbage, also 68, added: “Suddenly, around 9.30 pm, there was an almighty bang. Our table went flying, everything crashed to the floor and the lights went out…..”

From: Italy cruise ship disaster: survivors describe ‘pure chaos’, The Telegraph, 15 January 2012

There are many similar survivor accounts in the media.  As we all know, the Costa Concordia hits an outcrop of rocks which cuts a 50m gash into her side.  However, it is not clear at what time this occurred.  This account suggests it was 21:30.   However, the severity of the impact is unmistakable from this account and other similar accounts.  What is clear is that at around 21:30 everyone onboard was plainly aware that something very significant had happened to the ship.  At this stage we would hope that the Captain was also aware that something was very seriously wrong. 

Determining an incident timeline is essential if we are to understand what happened during this incident.  However, it is very difficult to put the survivor accounts published by the media together into a coherent sequence of events as most of the interviews with survivors fail to provide an indication of when the reported events occurred.  This makes it very difficult to put an incident timeline together.  A couple of media outlets have attempted to put timelines together.  One timeline was put together by the National Post on 15 January.  An extract from this timeline is as follows:

21:30 – The ship strikes an outcropping.

21:35 – The electricity goes off.

21:45 – A first alarm is sounded: two long whistles and one short, informing the crew of a problem.

21:50 – The ship begins to list. In the restaurants, dinnerware falls off the tables. Some passengers rush to their cabins for their life vests.

22:00 – Some passengers begin gathering on the fourth deck where the lifeboats are located, as the captain tries to maneuver the vessel closer to shore.

22:10 – The “abandon ship” signal is given: seven short whistles and one long. Lifeboats begin their deployment.

22:20 – The coastguard launches rescue operations with the help of speedboats and helicopters.

23:15: The first lifeboat reaches Giglio. In all, some 4,000 of the ship’s 4,229 make it to safety aboard a lifeboat.

From: “The Costa Concordia’s final moments caught on camera”, National Post, 15 Jan 2012.

The UK television programme, Channel 4 News have put together a timeline and broadcast it on their 19:00 programme on the 19 January 2012.  According to this timeline we have the following events:

21:45   — Costa Concordia hit the rocks and continued on its way.

21:52   — Costa Concordia starts to turn towards shore.

21:58   — Costa Concordia loses power and the coastguard, alerted by the family of a passenger, begins their rescue operation.

22:42   – Costa Concordia stops, evacuation starts and people begin to get into lifeboats.

22:58   – Abandon ship call is made

23:15   – Costa Concordia begins to heel over. 

There is clearly some confusion as to when the incident started and the timing of how it progressed.  However, we know that about 3900 people made it to shore in lifeboats and that about 300 people were left onboard as the ship heeled over.

According to the Channel 4 timeline there was some 90 minutes between hitting the rock and the point where it was impossible to launch the lifeboats.  It is inconceivable that the Captain was not aware very early on in the incident that his ship was holed and taking on water.

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