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Research Findings from the Costa Concordia Accident Report

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Updated: Jan 8th, 2020

Introduction

The Costa Concordia disaster is the greatest tragedy to occur in the cruise ship industry in recent decades. This accident resulted in the death of 32 people and the injury of 64 more. By the end of the rescue operations, two passengers were reported missing and rescue personnel believe that these individuals are dead.

This tragedy greatly distressed the leisure travel industry as people became wary of safety conditions on the sea. The company that owned the Costa Concordia and the ship’s Captain, Francesco Schettino, received widespread condemnation following the accident.

The captain was arrested and charges of manslaughter and negligence were opened against him (Ognibene, 2012). However, most of the reactions to the accident have been emotive with the media contributing to the public uproar because of sensational reporting on the events.

In the days following the event, the captain was vilified and held solely accountable for the accident and the media gave him dreadful titles including “Captain Disaster” and “Captain Coward”. It is important to objectively analyze the events on the night of the tragedy in order to decide on who is to blame for the sinking.

This report will set out to clearly outline what happened on the night of Friday 13, 2013 with special focus on the actions of the captain, the ship’s crew, and the Italian Coast Guard.

The paper will then review the reaction of Cruise lines to this incident and highlight some of the new policies the industry has introduced to increase safety at sea. The paper will conclude by offering a number of recommendations that will safeguard the safety of cruise ships in future.

Events on the Day

On January 13, 2012 at 7:33pm local time, the cruise ship Costa Concordia set sail from Civitavecchia to Savona. The ship had on board 4,229 people: 3,206 passengers and the rest the ship’s crew members. The ship was under the command of the 52-year-old Italian, Captain Francesco Schettino.

Two hours into the journey, the ship was passing the Italian Island of Giglio and Captain Schettino gave orders for the ship to change course so that it could sail closer to the Island’s shore as a salute to the local islanders. The BBC (2012) reports that the captain gave the precise coordinates to be followed to the ship’s helmsman.

Map showing standard route and the deviation by the Concordia

Fig 1: Map showing standard route and the deviation by the Concordia

A few minutes later, (21:45 pm local time) the ship collided with a reef that was present near the island shores. The impact led to significant damage to the ship as the rocky outcrop had stripped part of the ship’s hull leaving behind a huge hole on the left-hand side.

Water started entering into the ship’s engine room from this hole leading to a temporary power blackout as the generators were submerged in water.

Captain Schettino readjusted the course of the ship in an attempt to resume the original path. The ship was able to turn and it moved past Giglio Port. However, the damages to the ship were great and water was flooding into the engine room.

As water flowed into the lower parts of the Concordia through the huge hole in the ship’s hull, the ship tilted to one side (BBC, 2012). The ship started listing to one side due to the water intake from the damaged hull.

Realizing the ship was greatly damaged, the captain turned the ship towards the port of Giglio and it drifted in this direction until it grounded close to the harbour.

Ship positioning from collision with rock to eventual sinking

Fig 2. Ship positioning from collision with rock to eventual sinking

Captain Action

As the captain of the ill-fated Costa Concordia, Francesco Schettino was in charge of making all the major decisions concerning the movement of the ship. He is the person who gave the order for the ship to change course and travel nearer the shores of Giglio Island.

This order was not unusual and Captain Schettino has stated that this was a standard procedure when sailing past some islands. This assertion is backed by previous ship records that reveal that on August 14th, 2013, the Costa Concordia had engaged in a similar near Island sail without any incident.

Cinelli (2012) reports that passing closer to islands such as Giglio is a widespread practice in the Italian cruise industry. However, Captain Schettino took a great risk by going closer to the Island than was reasonably safe.

Top company officials agree that while ships deviate from the passage plan and pass close to the shore, such manoeuvres are only engaged in under safe conditions.

Captain Schettino was travelling at a higher speed than was safe when making his fly-by salute pass to the Island. The ship was moving at the relatively high speed of 15knots when moving in the dangerous waters close to the Island.

Brazier (2012) states that this speed was unsafe since the ship was moving in close proximity to obstacles and at such a speed, the captain would not be able to make the manoeuvres necessary to avoid a collision or stop the ship in case of an emergency.

A former cruise ship captain explains that the near-shore salutes are conducted at very low speeds (5 knots) to ensure the safety of the ship.

On realizing that the ship was sailing too close to the coast, the captain ordered a number of manoeuvres to be made in an attempt to avoid disaster.

Forensic reports by MIT (2012) indicate that the Ship Master ordered the ship to turn “hard to starboard” saving the ship’s bow from the shallows and then “hard to port” to try save the ship’s stern. However, this move did not help and the port side of the hull hit the rocks.

The captain changed the direction and attempted to resume the initial course of the ship. However, the ship had suffered great damage and it started listing due to the heavy water intake through its hull.

When Captain Schettino realized that the ship was taking in water, he turned the ship’s direction and eventually grounded the ship successfully.

In his court trial, the captain’s lawyer asserted that this manoeuvre saved many lives since if the ship had been left to drift into deeper waters, it would have sunk into the deep sea drowning hundreds of passengers and crew (BBC, 2012).

The captain gave orders for the Coast Guard to be called in and gave the call to abandon ship. However, the captain did not remain in the ship to oversee the evacuation process. Pisa and Hall (2012) reveal that the captain abandoned the ship before rescue operations had been completed.

He was able to communicate with the Coast Guard from a lifeboat even as evacuation efforts were going on in his ship. The Italian Coast Guard ordered him to return to the ship and oversee the evacuation of his passengers and crew.

However, Captain Schettino claimed that the ship was tilted at a steep angle making it impossible for him to return to the ship. In the days following the accident, Schettino was bitterly criticized for his irresponsible action following the accident.

Further investigations into Captain Schettino’s past revealed that the 52-year-old had a record of sailing accidents. Schettino had been involved in a cruise ship accident just 2 years before the devastating Costa Concordia accident.

Pisa and Hall (2012) report that while commandeering another cruise ship, the Costa Atlantica in German, Captain Schettino had had an incident that caused damage to the cruise ship on June 2010.

While no casualties were suffered during this accident, its cause was a miscalculation by the captain who had made his entry into the German port of Warnemunde at a higher speed than was safe.

Crew Action

Before the accident, the crew was engaged in typical ship operation based on their respective assignments. The first crew members to realize that an incident had occurred were the engine crew.

The engine crew department gained knowledge of the flooding in the engine room at 9:55 pm (exactly 10 minutes after the crash) and the chief engineer promptly informed the crew on the bridge about the flooding (MIT 2012).

The Engineering crew assessed the extent of the flooding in the engine room and concluded that it was substantial. A message was therefore passed on to the bridge with the captain being informed about the major flooding.

The accident caused a major commotion on deck and some passengers wanted to know what was going on. The crew serving on deck tried to keep the passengers calm. They informed the passengers that the ship was suffering from some minor problems and it would recover in a little while.

The passengers were requested to remain in their rooms and stay calm even as some passengers tried to make their way to the bridge. Once the captain had announced that the ship was in trouble, the crew asked the passengers to put on their life jackets.

The ship’s captain ordered his crew to inform the Coast Guard of the failure in the ship at 22:25 and a request was made for rescue operations to begin.

The Crew assisted the passengers to put on their safety jacket and oversaw the loading of the lifeboats. Crew members were also responsible for lowering the lifeboats and steering the passengers away from the sinking ship and into safety. There was a marked lack of coordination during the evacuation process.

Eyewitness accounts from passengers aboard the Concordia reveal that the evacuation process was chaotic with some crew members showing little proficiency in their task.

This disorganization increased the time taken to carry out the evacuation process and some analysts suggest that it contributed to the high casualty rate in the accident.

Coast Guard Response

The Coast Guard was first alerted to the presence of a problem on the Costa Concordia by calls made by passengers aboard the damaged ship at 22:12pm. These passengers contacted the local police with reports that they suspected a major problem on their ship.

The MIT (2012) reports that at 10:12pm, the maritime rescue centre attempted to contact the Concordia and find out what was going on. The captain failed to provide the Coast Guard with accurate information concerning the real condition of the Concordia.

Data from the ship’s black box voice recorder reveals that the captain told the Coast Guard that the ship was only suffering from a minor blackout in spite of the fact that he had been informed by the engine room chief that the damage done to the ship was major and the ship could not continue its journey.

The captain only made a call to request for help from the Coast Guard at 22:25pm after he realized that the ship was greatly damaged.

By 10:39pm, the Coast Guard had dispatched a patrol ship and it was alongside the Ship assessing the situation. Twenty minutes later, Captain Schettino ordered “Abandon Ship” and the evacuation process progressed.

By 11:37 pm, most of the passengers and crew had successfully left the ship and the captain revealed to the Coast Guard that only approximately 300 persons were on board. T

he Coast Guard assisted in the rescue operation of persons who had jumped overboard into the seawater to escape from the sinking ship. Using motor boats, rescue personnel were able to save many individuals from the sea.

Search and Rescue

By 00:30am, most of the persons on board had been rescued by there were about 50 who could not leave the ship due to its precarious position. The Coast Guard had to dispatch helicopters to save some of these people. The helicopters were also used to rescue the castaways from the seawater.

Throughout the night of the accident, the Coast Guard engaged in intense activity to rescue the castaways. They were assisted in this task by the local population who also played a part in retrieving of persons from the water.

Search operations continued both at sea and on board the ship with survivors being transferred to hospitals in the nearby island.

Rescue operations were undertaken to rescue individuals trapped in the ship. Underwater search operators blew the doors of submerged cabins and 30 bodies were found, mostly at deck 4 of the Concordia. Rescue operations had to be halted for a few hours on 16 January 2012 following bad weather conditions.

The rough seas and threats of a storm made it impossible for rescue personnel to continue with their activities. However, the weather cleared and the rescue operations were resumed with more dead bodies being retrieved from the sunken ship.

On 18th January, the rescue operations were suspended as the Coast Guard feared that the Costa Concordia was sinking deeper and it would move into the deep rough seas. The search and rescue operations continued until 31st January when the operations were officially terminated.

This termination occurred since the Italian authorities concluded that there was little probability of finding any more live passengers and the risk to the rescue divers was therefore unjustifiable.

Findings on the Accident

All the evidence indicates that the accident was caused by human error and in particular, the actions of the ship’s captain, Francesco Schettino. The Costa Concordia accident was caused by the captain’s order to divert the ship from its normal course and sail closer to the island.

The captain must be held responsible for his decision to deviate from the original voyage plan and sail close to the island. The report indicates that the captain’s decision to change the original course of the voyage was done without the consent of the company’s top management.

Captain Schettino also demonstrated a lack of competence by sailing at a high speed in hazardous waters and failing to react immediately the risk was perceived.

The captain should have issued the order for the ship to change course as soon as signs of danger became apparent. However, the captain himself admits that his order for the ship to be turned was issued too late.

The captain is responsible for the significantly high number of deaths and injuries after the accident. He exercised poor leadership by failing to give orders as soon as he was made aware of the damages caused by the collision.

The MIT (2012) reveals that Captain Schettino failed to take any immediate action when the Chief engineer informed him of the flooding in the engine room. This document demonstrates that the captain delayed in sounding the alarm. He did not admit to the relevant authorities that the ship was in trouble in good time.

Consequently, timely steps were not taken to abandon the ship as soon as possible. Following the collision with the rock, Captain Schettino attempted to resume the original course of the Ship instead of contacting the nearest harbour for assistance.

The ship’s engineer had warned the captain that the contact with the rock had caused significant damage to the ship’s hull.

MIT (2012) notes that the delay in sounding the “General Emergency” alarm led to loss of time that could have been taken to abandon the ship before it took in too much water and put the lives of more passengers in danger.

While most of the blame falls on the captain, some blame can be allocated to the blame. The company that managed the crew ship is also to blame for the incident. To begin with, the top company officials were responsible for hiring the ship’s senior personnel including Captain Schettino.

This report has demonstrated that Schettino did not have a clean record since he had been involved in another incident while captaining a ship in German waters. The company should not have employed a captain who had a history of making mistakes while at sea.

The decision by Captain Schettino to deviate from the official course can be blamed on the organizational culture of the company.

In as much as the company insists that the near shore salute carried out by Schettino was unauthorized, this report reveals that passing close by islands such as Giglio was a common practice by the company’s ships.

Since there are no records of captains in the past being reprimanded for such action, it can be surmised that the company did not disapprove of this dangerous practice.

The public assertions by Costa Crociere’s management that Captain Schettino acted against company policy by changing the route of the vessel are an attempt to shift all the blame to Schettino (Johnston, 2012). The company is therefore responsible for endorsing a dangerous practice by its ship captains.

 Proof that the Concordia had sailed near the island in the past

Fig 3: Proof that the Concordia had sailed near the island in the past

Reaction by Cruise Lines

The Costa Concordia disaster evoked a reaction from the cruise ship industry. The Costa Concordia accident was disastrous since it led to the death of 32 people and damages to the €450 million mega ship.

Players in this industry were shocked by the magnitude of the losses in human life that the disaster led to and the material loss caused by the sinking of the multimillion-dollar ship.

The accident also led to a negative public perception of the cruise ship industry. Until then, cruise lines had established themselves as the “safest forms of holiday” and grabbed a significant market share in the holiday travel industry.

It was therefore important for cruise lines to reassure the public of the safety of cruise ships. Cruise lines therefore set out to implement reforms to ensure that cruise ship safety was improved in the post-Concordia days.

New Policies for Safety at Sea

A significant policy change that was triggered by the Costa Concordia disaster is with regard to the time when passengers are informed of safety protocols.

At the time of the Concordia disaster, the laws in place required the ship to inform passengers of the emergency evacuation procedures and the safety protocols within 24hours of being on the ship (Bender, 2012).

However, the Concordia disaster highlighted that this law is flawed since if a disaster occurs before the 24 hours, the passengers will not have been given instructions on how to deal with a disaster.

Major cruise lines therefore decided to make use of new regulations that require passengers to be informed of the emergency procedures and protocols before the ship begins its journey.

The Costa Concordia accident highlighted the inefficiency in ship emergency protocols. In particular, the incident demonstrated that most crew members were not adequately trained on how to deal with emergencies.

Cruise lines have tried to come up with robust arrangements for dealing with emergencies and ensuring that an adequate number of trained personnel are available to handle the emergencies. Crew members are today better trained on how to manage an emergency such as the one involving the Costa Concordia.

Brazier (2012) reveals that Cruise lines ensure that crew members are familiarized with emergency tasks and role that they might have to undertake in case of a Concordia-like disaster. Cruise lines made changes to the training of the crew members for emergency preparedness (Archer, 2013).

Changes were also implemented in the configuration of life jackets. Previously, life jackets were primarily placed in the cabins of the passengers. Following the Concordia disaster, it became apparent that passengers might not have time to go back to their cabins following an emergency.

New policies therefore require extra life jackets to be placed near the lifeboats so that passengers can access these safety devices without being forced to go to their cabins.

Hondro (2012) explains that because of this new regulation, each cruise ship will be equipped with significantly more lifejackets than the number of passengers on board.

Recommendations for Future Safety

In addition to the changes already embarked on by the cruise ship industry, there are additional changes that can contribute to the future safety of cruise ships.

Ships should be fitted with the most sophisticated devices to warn the Captain and crew about possible collisions with undersea objects in good time (Brazier, 2012). In the case of the Costa Concordia collision, the captain did not receive an early warning and he allowed the ship to continue on its doomed course.

The navigation tools used should also be updated to include all significant features especially near shores. The ship captain revealed that the rocks that caused the disaster were not visible on the nautical chart he was using to navigate.

Major decisions by the captain should be made in collaboration with other crew members. The captain of the cruise ship should be required to obtain some input from other knowledgeable members of his crew when making key decisions to minimize the risk of human error.

In the case of the Costa Concordia accident, the captain made the order to deviate from the computer-generated course unilaterally. Brazier (2012) observes that when one person is required to take all the key decisions with no input from others, the risk of human error increases.

It is conceivable that if the captain had involved key members of his crew in the decision-making, someone would have recognized the error in this course of action and brought this information to the attention of the captain (Tyler, 2012).

All cruise ships should have crew members that are conversant in the major languages used by the passengers. This will ensure that there is no communication breakdown between the crew members and the passengers in times of an emergency.

In the Costa Concordia case, most of the crew members were not able to express themselves in English despite the fact that most of the passengers communicated in this language. The evacuation process was therefore prolonged and chaotic since crew members could not issue understandable instructions to all the passengers.

Cruise ship captains should be required to stick to the original voyage plan drawn before the ship leaves harbour.

The captain should not have the discretion to change the course of the ship except in the case of an emergency. The Concordia disaster was primarily caused by the error by the captain when he changed from the original computer generated course of the ship.

The capacity of future cruise ships should be reduced to less than 2000 passengers. In spite of all the safety mechanisms, disasters can happen while at sea.

The huge capacity of cruise lines makes the impact more serious because of the difficulties of evacuating thousands of passengers in an emergency. More modestly sized cruise ships would present less of a danger since evacuation efforts would be less complex.

A thorough vetting process should be used when hiring the ship’s top personnel including the captain. This vetting process should eliminate any candidate who has a history of negligence or incompetence at work (Drabek, 2013).

Such a process will ensure that incompetent captains are never allowed to sail and put the lives of thousands at risk while at sea.

Conclusion

This report set out to outline the events of the night that the Costa Concordia disaster occurred with the intention of clearly demonstrating what went wrong and who is to blame for the incident. It began by providing details of the events that led to the accident along the shores of Giglio Island.

From the information provided, it is evident that Captain Schettino is to blame for the disaster. However, the report has shown that the company is also responsible since it promoted a faulty culture or sailing close to islands and also hired Captain Schettino; a man with a previous shipping accident record.

The report has stated that the Costa Concordia case can provide valuable lessons that can be used to ensure the future safety of cruise ships. Based on the accident, new regulations have been implemented by industry leaders to increase the safety of cruise ships.

With stringent safety standards in place, it can be expected that another disaster of the Costa Concordia scale will be avoided and in case it does occur, the emergency procedures will be greatly organized leading to minimal or even no casualties.

References

Archer, J. (2013). Web.

BBC. (2012). . Web.

Bender, K. (2012). Costa Concordia Disaster Sparks New Regulation: May Be Too Late to Salvage Business. The Global Business Law Review, 1(2), 1-3.

Brazier, A. (2012). What can we learn from the Costa Concordia? Loss Prevention Bulletin, 224 (1), 8-9.

Cinelli, A. (2012). . Web.

Drabek, T. E. (2013). The Human Side of Disaster. NY: CRC Press.

Hondro, M. (2012). . Web.

Johnston, A. (2012). . Web.

Ministry of Infrastructure and Transport (MIT). (2012). Marine Accident Investigation C/S Costa Concordia. Rome: Italian Maritime Investigative Body on Marine Accidents.

Ognibene, S. (2012). . Web.

Pisa, N., & Hall, A. (2012). . Web.

Tyler, D. 2012. Costa Concordia aftermath: when is it OK to challenge a captain’s decision? Professional Mariner Journal, 8(2), 32-44.

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IvyPanda. 2020. "Research Findings from the Costa Concordia Accident." January 8, 2020. https://ivypanda.com/essays/research-findings-from-the-costa-concordia-accident/.

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