When the Costa Concordia set off from Civitavecchia, Italy, what came next should have been a routine cruise around the Mediterranean. Instead, the ship’s captain, Francesco Shettino, took a detour towards the island of Giglio and hit a reef called Le Scole, tearing open a 160 foot gash in the hull, resulting in a power outage and the eventual listing and sinking of the Concordia. The death toll stands at eleven, with some still missing.
The sinking of the Costa Concordia has garnered plenty of press, much of it focused on survivors’ stories and the still-unfolding details about Captain Francesco Schettino’s culpability, with plenty of references to the Titanic. In reality, the Costa Concordia was longer than the Titanic, weighed twice as much, and carried two times the number of passengers, reflecting recent trends in the cruise industry to go bigger and book more people. Yet some question how well attention to passenger safety has kept up. According to the Huffington Post, current safety standards require public address systems, partially enclosed lifeboats that can be loaded within a half-hour after the captain gives the “abandon ship” order, and weekly safety drills. Several passengers on the Costa Concordia, however, reported only recognizing the abandon ship signal (six short blasts of the ship’s whistle followed by one long blast) based on previous cruise experience.
How does an event like the sinking of the Costa Concordia happen in 2012? What are the protocols and safety standards for a cruise ship, and how well were they followed by the Concordia’s crew? Are you likely to book a cruise any time soon?
Michael Bruno, dean of the school of engineering and science at the Stevens Institute of Technology in Hoboken, N.J. and chairman of the Marine Board of the National Research Council
Anne Campbell, editor of ShipCriticBlog.com; has covered the cruise industry for 19 years for outlets including USA Today and Huffington Post