The Sinking of the Costa Concordia…Unanswered Questions in the Loss of Massive Cruise Ship

“I cannot imagine any condition which would cause a ship to founder. I cannot conceive of any vital disaster happening to this vessel. Modern shipbuilding has gone beyond that.” Captain Edward Smith, Captain of RMS Titanic referring to RMS Adriatic

They are considered the queens of the high seas but they are not unsinkable. Modern ship design and technology can always be doomed by the hubris of those that design, build and command them. The Italian cruise ship Costa Concordia sank off of the tiny tourist resort island of Giglio in constricted waters off the Italian coast.  The ship which displaced 114,500 tons and is 952 feet long was carrying over 4000 souls when sailing less than 300 meters from shore she struck a rocky outcropping for unknown reasons.

The liner’s captain claims that he struck an “uncharted” rock and some have speculated that a power failure or navigational systems error could have caused the ship to go off course. However the ship was miles off course and any experienced mariner or Merchant Captain would have recognized that the ship was far off course by visual observation as the weather was clear and the sea calm at the time of the sinking. Additionally the route was a weekly event for the ship and crew.

What we do know is that the ship struck rocks which opened a gash 150-300 (depending on the estimate) feet long in the ship’s port side below the waterline encompassing an area that included the main engineering spaces.  The could be more damage below the water on the ship’s bottom as well.

The ship continued on for a bit but the flooding had to rapid and the ship first heeled 20 degrees to port (left as you face the bow or front of the ship) and the Captain ordered the ship about to get her into shallow water obviously fearing that she might go down in deep water.  He did get the ship into shallow water but something else unexpected occurred to cause the ship to list to starboard (right as you face the bow). The list became so bad that she hit bottom with about a nearly 90 degree list exposing the massive damage on the port side which included a massive boulder sticking out of the hull.

The two main questions are why did the ship go strike bottom and why did she sink? A third question that I have regards the ability of any large cruise ship to survive sudden and massive emergencies, not just maritime emergencies but God forbid a terrorist attack like that which nearly sank the USS Cole. The first is being answered by the cruise line which stated:

“While the investigation is ongoing, preliminary indications are that there may have been significant human error on the part of the ship’s Master, Captain Francesco Schettino, which resulted in these grave consequences.

“The route of the vessel appears to have been too close to the shore, and the captain’s judgment in handling the emergency appears to have not followed standard Costa procedures.”

Italian authorities have arrested the Captain and First Officer on charges of manslaughter.  Other charges will probably be filed.  I believe that as the investigation progresses investigators will discover that the Captain endangered the vessel by deliberately sailing close to shore, far closer than any large vessel should sail.    Had he stayed in the main shipping channel nothing would have occurred.

The second question involves how fast the ship sank and why she heeled to starboard when the damage was on the port side. I would suspect that the crew was overwhelmed by damage of the extent that occurred and that their damage control training was insufficient.  The actual number of deck hands and engineers compared to kitchen and wait staff, entertainment and housekeeping was probably minimal. This is because of the tendency for merchant crews to be just large enough to run the ship depending on technology.  However in catastrophic situations technology can be overwhelmed and what is needed are sailors that can effect emergency repairs to keep the ship afloat until help can arrive.  However keeping a surplus of qualified deck hands and engineers on board would cut into the corporate bottom line. Since this is the case it would be important that every member of the crew have some real training in shipboard damage control and firefighting. I suspect that this is not the case even though according to Costa “All crew members hold a BST (Basic Safety Training) certificate and are trained and prepared to emergency management and to assist passengers abandoning the ship with numerous drills.”

However that is not the same as being qualified to assist deck hands and engineers in serious damage control situations.  The crew did a commendable job in evacuating the ship despite the inability to use many lifeboats due to the steep list but had this occurred in deep water or stormy conditions the death toll could have been catastrophic. As of now 6 people are known dead and several dozen  are unaccounted for and could be either trapped in the ship or drowned.

These are important questions to ask and hopefully what happened to the Costa Concordia will lead to even more safety measures and improvement in ship design. There have been a number of incidents of cruise ships sinking in the past number of years but most have been smaller or older ships. The Concordia was very new and considered state of the art.  She is one of the largest ships to every be sunk in history and a warning to those like Captain Smith of Titanic.


Padre Steve+


Filed under History, Navy Ships, News and current events

4 responses to “The Sinking of the Costa Concordia…Unanswered Questions in the Loss of Massive Cruise Ship

  1. john

    Last year I was on a giant cruise ship off the US coast in heavy fog. At the time the captain was engaged in a cake decorating contest in the giant atrium in the middle of the ship. I have always assumed that if one of these super cruisers goes down on the open ocean they would never get everyone off unless the wind and sea were dead calm. However, the Costa case proves that you can’t count on getting everyone off even in these ideal conditions if the ship is rammed or holed by grounding or colliding with something. These ships should be designed so that they can remain upright enough to launch boats even if holed. Remember the Andria Doria. She listed quickly so that boats on one side were useless.

  2. gfo

    In this accident there are many “cultural issues within a mixed team” and I wouldn’t call it a “technical” disater. I’m a Naval Architect-Marine surveyor and know quite well the environment. I’m Italian, and I know this environment quite well, too. This is an article that I consider a good article:…abettapovoledo about “environment”.
    I commented with an e-mail to the author with this:

    “I read your article with much interest. Beppe Savargnini is a brilliant journalist and personally I think we should be proud of him. Quoting him makes your excellent article supreme.
    For the sake of complete information I want to say here that we Italians are handicapped since early childhood by two mottos that we are taught and that remain printed in our mindset forever. One is ” Don’t spit in the dish you are eating from” and “Dirty laundry must be done at home”. This makes us reluctant to criticize ( even in a positive way ) our employer, our boss, our political party and politicians, making us believe at subliminal level that it’s not fair or moral.
    A sort of Kennedy’s “Your country, right or wrong…” with the difference that in Kennedy’s the criticizing citizen is openly requested “to put it right”. Here we are not: let’s cover it up and let’s hope not get involved too seriously.
    Peaceful complaining in a positive way, that in “normal” societies is called “debate” is quite difficult over here. Here we can just have riots or passive submission. In our talk shows the participant yell to each other, never wait that other speaker conclude…and so forth.
    About Schettino and De Falco: “In the country of the blind the one-eyed man will be king”.
    Italians are not better or worse than any other people on earth: many of us have qualities that in an open international environment could well contribute to the common good. The difference lays in the fact that we are loose, wild: our financial, administrative, political, judicial institutions are not strong enough nor structured so to prevent “discrepancies”: if an institution is headed/managed by a wise man it can work fine, otherwise it doesn’t have the power, or will, to remedy, with a sort of laissez-fair that is quite detrimental to all of us. “our moments of greatness, often, have an element of the accidental hero,” as in the case of Captain De Falco.” represents the full picture of it.

    During the past government ALLl political parties filled up our Parliament with so much human rubbish that a technical government that didn’t depend on voters’ will had to be called in.
    Scores of schettinos are omnipresent in our society: bully and arrogant with the week, submissive or hand in glove with the strong, and in case of emergency: ” Si salvi chi può!” (Every man for himself!)
    We can’t be surprised that Francesco Schettino was appointed captain of Costa Concordia.
    I was quite disappointed reading this:…tml?ref=search
    but unfortunately it’s hard to overcome a reputation that is quite established.
    Please watch this when you have a chance:
    Costa Concordia wreckage. Summary of events as of Jan. 22

    Thanks for your attention ”

    • padresteve

      Thank you for the interesting comments. I find it fascinating to to see your assessment of the current political/cultural situation in Italy and how someone like Schettino could be in command of such a ship.


      Padre Steve+

      • gfo

        Very glad to receive your comments. From abroad news from foreign counties sound different. What can be interesting and fascinating from abroad is “despair” over here, not for everibody but for many it is. As a matter of fact someone like Schettino WAS in command until recently and together with his sycophants kept denying what was clearly an impending doom for many: recession, unemployment, growth below zero %. Like Schettino they didn’ trigger any alert system that could have prevented things from getting worse. It’s quite a contradiction for a democracy that the new “technical” government, appointed, not elected, is having some success due to the fact that…it doen’t have voters to expect blame from.
        Thanks again, great page yours!

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