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  • Subject area(s): Engineering
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  • Published on: 7th September 2019
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The grounding of the Italian cruise ship Costa Concordia proved that the mitigation instilled within the design of modern cruise ships was unable to handle large scale failures. In addition, it demonstrated that human error and reckless negligence could not be fully countered with any amount of mitigation or preparedness. As a result, the steps that have been taken to mitigate the extent of damage to the vessel was insufficient to save the ship or the lives that had been lost. The number of these failures can be attributed to the delays in identifying the problem, alerting authorities, and initiating a response.

Less than three hours after its departure from the Italian port of Civitavecchia, the vessel’s Captain, Francesco Schettino, gave his helsmen orders to avoid rocks in the ocean alongside the Island of Giglio (BBC). Only fifteen minutes later, the vessel struck these rocks and created a fifty-three meter long breach in the hull. Five watertight compartments were affected, and the damage proved to be irreversible (Francois). The negligence on the part of the vessel’s Captain proved to be the fatal flaw the shipwrecks to occur. According to the official after action report, the vessel’s captain, as well as the rest of the crew and officers on the bridge, we’re unprepared and acted passively while executing their duties of safely navigating the ship (Marine Casualties Investigative Body, 152-153). Due to their lack of attention, the crew was unprepared to safely and adequately perform the minimum requirements of their job. It is incredibly likely that the entire disaster could have been avoided had the crew focused on their duties and performed it in accordance with the law, industry standards, and common sense.

As it would be expected from the crew’s lack of attention to the situation around them prior to the collision, the officers of the Costa Concordia had extreme difficulty in understanding their vessel’s condition and determining what steps to take. In the moments following the collision with the rock, officers on the bridge and within the engineering room were unable to efficiently and effectively understand what had happened and what to do (BBC). Although it was fairly obvious that a significant event had taken place, the ship’s crew did not relay complete and useful information to the relevant authorities. While the engineering and electrical crew of the vessel searched to find answers, the crew on the deck only radiod that the ship had suffered a blackout, and everything was under control (BBC).

Almost 30 minutes after the initial collision, the vessel’s crew had still not given an accurate update to relevant authorities. Local law-enforcement agencies had received multiple emergency calls from guests aboard the ship stating various emergency conditions (BBC). The Italian Coast Guard contacted the vessel’s bridge at 10:12 PM local time to request an explanation from the ship’s captain. However, they only reitterated that there was a blackout, although conditions were under control while the crew continued to investigate (BBC). It took an additional ten minutes for the Costa Concordia to report that they had suffered from a collision. Finally, eleven minutes after this report, the captain sounded the general alarm and ordered crew and passangers to their muster stations (BBC). From collision to general alarm, it took the officers forty-eight minutes to determine what had happened, and that an emergency was taking place.

Needless to say, the amount of time it took to determine the extent of the emergency proves a gross amount of unpreparedness and negligence on the part of the crew. In addition to the incredible delays in communication, the information that was communicated was largely in inaccurate or misleading. The combination of delayed and in accurate information hindered the response process significantly. As authorities and personnel within the local government and emergency services saw information regarding the incident, they were unable to act and begin to send resources. As a maritime emergency, responses can be delayed as compared tomore traditional emergencies on the land. Depending on exact location of a vessel, emergency services and response teams may often be hours or even days away. Luckily, the location of the Costa Concordia’s collision made it relatively accessable to nearby Coast Guard vessels and aircraft. However, the delay in passing accurate information was a disaster in itself seeing how close rescue services were.

At the time of the disaster, current regular and dictated as a vessel be able to muster and evacuate all crew and passengers through the compliment of lifeboats (Wescott). However, the actual evacuation of the Costa Concordia lasted approximately five hours (Wescott). Regulations at the time and dictated that the crew did not need to perform on the abandoned ship drill prior to departing. However, a cursory safety briefing was performed in accordance with company and international policy (Marine Casualties Investigative Body, 60). The delays in announcing that a disaster existed had a significant effect on the evacuation of the vessel. Due to the delays in sounding general alarm for a monster as well as the sending of the abandoned ship signal, a number of lifeboats were unusable as they could not function properly due to the ship’s significant list (Wescott).

When the Italian Coast Guard finally begin to receive consistent reports of a situation occuring aboard the Costa Concordia, it provided for the preliminary investigation and response. As with every part of the world’s waterways, the area the disaster took place in was monitored and patrolled by a maritime authority. In this case, the Italian Coast Guard was obligated to respond to any incident within its area of responsibility.

Italy’s entire area of responsibility falls under the control and direction of its Maritime Rescue Coordination Center (MRCC), which is located at a Coast Guard facitilty in Rome. It is from this location that the Italian Coast Guard manages and tracks all disasters, emergencies, and other incidents (Marine Casualties Investigative Body, 14). Generally speaking, each country that has an area of responsibility will have at least one Maritime Rescue Coordination Center. Depending on the amount of water the country is responsible for, there may be multiple. While a nation will generally only have a few Maritime Rescue Coordination Centers, there are usually many more Maritime Rescue Sub-Centers (MRSC). These locations are often military or coast guard bases where search and rescue operations are staged (Marine Casualties Investigative Body, 14). Italy maintains sixteen Maritime Rescue Sub-Centers, of which fifteen are operated directly by the Italian Coast Guard (Marine Casualties Investigative Body, 14).

At 10:16 PM local time, Maritime Rescue Sub-Center Livorno dispatched to a local patrol boat to investigate the situation after having received multiple unspecified communications regarding trouble aboard the Costa Concordia from various sources. Reaching the disaster site at 10:39 PM, Patrol Boat G. 104 was the first responder to reach the vessel, and therefore was designated as the initial on scene commander (Marine Casualties Investigative Body, 14). At approximately 10:25 PM, MRSC Livorno contacted the bridge of the Costa Concordia once again. It was at this time the captain of the vessel finally gave positive confirmation that the port (left) side of the vessel had received a significant breach in the hull. To facilitate a quick and efficient response, the Italian Coast Guard reached out to commercial vessels in the area (Marine Casualties Investigative Body, 14).

Although the Italian Coast Guard maintains a proficient and ready maritime search and rescue capability, the nature of the maritime environment makes it more challenging to activate and moveme resources. To alleviate the extent of this problem, commercial sailors are often trained, equipped, and expected to participate in disaster operations at sea. This is especially important when a collision or disaster takes place out in open ocean. Emergencies that occur far from land and established ports create a unique challenge as emergency services and rescuers might take days to arrive. Although the Costa Concordia was extremely close to land, the Italian Coast Guard contacted two merchant vessels within the immediate vicinity and requested that they immediately diverge from there current courses and participate in rescue efforts (Marine Casualties Investigative Body, 14). As soon as authorities became aware that an emergency was occurring, they contacted the M/V Allesandro F. and the M/V Giusseppe SA. A total of 14 merchant vessels and four tugboats participated in the early search and rescue efforts (Marine Casualties Investigative Body, 16).

While the use of tugboats occurred for fairly obvious reasons, the role of merchant vessels during the rescue might be less well understood. The importance of the merchant vessels is more critical during open ocean rescues that take place hours or days from land. However, their purpose remained the same during the Costa Concordia rescues. As Italian Coast Guard, Naval, and Air Force rescue boats and aircraft are designed for function and purpose, they are not especially useful or comfortable for storing many survivors. While they maybe capable of completing the task if the small crew of a cargo vessel is in danger, a cruise ship with thousands of passengers and crew requires a different approach. In any maritime disaster, there is a possibility of a man overboard situation. Due to the chaos of the situation, it is incredibly likely that either a person falls overboard or intentionally jumps into the water. These individuals must be rescued by either a designated rescue boat or a lifeboat.

Unfortunately, the Costa Concordia was unable to use all of its lifeboats due to the damage the vessel had received and its a significant list (Wescott). With thousands of lives in danger, it makes perfect sense to utilize the assets on board a commercial vessel to assist in the recovery of these individuals. In addition to rescuing survivors from the water, another problem stems from we are to keep these individuals. Regardless of their health and mobility, all rescued individuals must be transferred from a lifeboat to a more permanent location while rescue operations are in progress. During open ocean rescues, it becomes another dilemma has to how the thousands of rescued victims will be transported to shore. Although this collission took place close to shore, commercial sailors provided vital aid through these same methods. At 10:55 PM, Captain Schettino gave the abandon ship order, and local merchant vessels were alerted to keep a vigilant lookout for lifeboats and individuals in the water (Marine Casualties Investigative Body, 17).

The use of privately owned vessels during maritime rescue efforts is not uncommon, and many governmental organizations around the world encourage it. As a practice, it is an excellent demonstration of partnerships between the public and government sectors and private individuals and corporations. While these relationships were extremely helpful during the time of crisis, the relationship between the ship’s senior officers and the public sector were poor. The lack of the efficient and consistent communication played a large part of the chaos that took place. It is likely that better communication and behavior on the part of the ships crew could have saved a number of lives

It is been established that Captain Schettino is the rest of the officers on the bridge were unprepared to satisfactorily complete their duties for multiple reasons. As a part of the investigation, it was determined that the navigation team on the bridge had established a route generally regarded as safe. However, Captain Schettino intentionally diverted their route closer to the Island of Giglio (Marine Casualties Investigative Body, 43). As the navigation team did not plan for be changing their route, the bridge did not have an appropriately scaled nautical chart from which to navigate. By using a less detailed chart in the area they had entered, the risk of collision was much greater (Marine Casualties Investigative Body, 43). Therefore, senior officers negligently placed themselves in a situation with unnecessary risk. This had a significant and adverse effect on recovery operations once the collision occurred.

Because the ship’s crew did not have preciseprecise, accurate, and timely information regarding their situation, the Italian Coast Guard needed to take a larger role in the recovery then their private partners. Throughout the evening, the ship’s crew needed to be contacted multiple times to confirm their actions. By failing to simply communicate there status and intended operations to relevant authorities, the Coaster Concordia made planning the rescue a much more difficult endeavor. One example of this took place at 10:45 PM. It was at this time the Coast Guard felt obligated to contact the ship as the vessel had changed direction. Naturally confused and unsure, the Coast Guard made radio contact with the bridge, who affirmed that they intentionally wished to changed their position towards shallower water (Marine Casualties Investigative Body, 17). While this decision was both logical and effective, the ship’s failure to communicate its plan with the Coast Guard both confused authorities and prevented on the scene resources from having the opportunity to help (Marine Casualties Investigative Body, 17).

Eventually, the vessel purposely ran aground and came to rest in a relatively stable position to facilitate the rest of the rescue operations (Marine Casualties Investigative Body, 17). Coast Guard, Naval, and Air Force helicopters soon arrived and begin rescuing individuals who remained onboard (BBC). However, as rescue operations continued, Captain Schettino failed to coordinate the rescue operations from onboard the ship. In fact, instead of fulfilling any of his duties as the master of the vessel, he entered a lifeboat with a fellow senior officer and abandoned ship shortly before midnight (BBC). In addition to being immoral, all senior officers, including the captain, have a legal obligation to remain onboard and coordinate the evacuation. This duty was ignored while hundreds of passengers and crew remained on board waiting to be rescued (BBC).

Captain Schettino was contacted multiple times by authorities and ordered to resume his obligated duties. While in his lifeboat, an officer with the Italian Coast Guard ordered Captain Schettino to reboard the vessel to coordinate the evacuation. However, the order was ignored and the Captain was seen in a lifeboat heading ashore shortly before 1:00 AM (BBC). According to the conversation between the Captain and the Coast Guard, authorities made repeated pleas and requests to have the senior officers reboard the vessel. Each time, the captain was told that rescue attempts would be at they severe disadvantage without critical information about the situation provided by the ship’s most senior officers (Marine Casualties Investigative Body, 160). Therefore, Captain Schettino not only neglected to perform his duties, he in fact hindered and slowed down the response of emergency and rescue services. Early conversations failed to provide useful or accurate information, and later actions proved to waste a usable lifeboat and confused rescuers.

As the local fire department took control and responsibility of rescue operations from the Coast Guard, the nature of their actions began to shift from search and rescue to recovery and salvage. The Italian Coast Guard’s focused during the night had been on rescuing able-bodied individuals who were able to either escape on their own or who were trapped in readily accessible areas of the ship. Now that those who were able to escape had done so, fire department teams of recovery experts and divers spent the early hours of the following morning searching through the partially capsized ship to recover bodies and rescue anyone unable to move (Marine Casualties Investigative Body, 19-20). With the majority of the vessel’s officers ashore, emergency workers and government authorities took complete control and responsibility for the rest of the operation (Marine Casualties Investigative Body, 19).

The diving search and recovery operations soon shifted their focus from recovering the bodies of victims to an investigation of the ship, its damage, and the collision site. During the night of the disaster, the vessel settled on a sand bar approximately twenty meters deep (BBC). This conveniently stopped the ship from submerging completely while rescuers worked to save the hundreds of individuals left on board. However, during the investigation, the wreckage of the vessel moved multiple times as the underwater terrain varied as much as one hundred meters deep (BBC).

Before the wreckage could be moved or salvaged, the hazardous materials still located in the ship needed to be removed properly to prevent an environmental disaster. A Dutch company, Smit, was contracted to remove the fuel from within the ship. The company brought in a barge alongside the ship to pump out over 2,400 tons of diesel fuel from its submerged tanks (BBC). The team was largely successful, as it was able to remove over 2,200 tons of the fuel without any spills. However, due to the physical location, position, and condition of the vessel, it was determined that approximatley 200 tons of diesel fuel could not be safely removed without a significant risk of a major spill (BBC). As such, the earlier plan to break up the major components of the vessel and remove them individually could no longer be accomplished. After four months of fuel recovery and salvage planning, a team of experts decided that it would be necessary to refloat and salvage the ship in one piece to avoid leaking the fuel. This salvage contract was awarded to the Titan and Micoperi corporations (BBC). Due to the complicated and intense nature of the salvage project, it took nearly two years for the team to refloat the vessel

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