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Titanic: A Monument and Warning to Human Presumption

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

In 1912 the Bishop of Winchester said these words in a sermon marking the end of the R.M.S. Titanic: “Titanic, name and thing, will stand as a monument and warning to human presumption,” as well it should. Sadly, it seems that that Trump administration is doing its best to strip away vital safety, health, and environmental regulations that protect people from even worse disasters than that which befell the great ship 105 years ago today.

The story of the Titanic has been told many times, and it should be a cautionary tale for those who in the name of profit and glory seek to dismantle safety and environmental standards. I remember reading Walter Lord’s classic treatment of the story, A Night to Remember back in 7th Grade. It made a tremendous impact on me, and every so often I will go back and read it again.

The Titanic’s Captain, Edward Smith, her was blinded by his faith in shipbuilding technology and had said about the Adriatic which he commanded previously, “I cannot imagine any condition which would cause a ship to founder. I cannot conceive of any vital disaster happening to this vessel. Modern ship building has gone beyond that.” A Senator Said during the hearings about the sinking of her captain, “Overconfidence seems to have dulled the faculties usually so alert.”

The story of what happened to the great ship is as hard to believe now as it was then, but then incredible tragedies be they the loss of ships, aircraft, buildings or bridges, and even spacecraft always invoke such feelings. When I was told about the Space Shuttle Challenger blowing up in 1986 I remarked to the young soldier who brought me the news “don’t be silly Space Shuttles don’t blow up.”  Walter Lord, who was probably the most prolific historian and author of the Titanic disaster used to talk of the “if onlys” that haunted him about the sinking of Titanic: If only, so many if onlys. If only she had enough lifeboats. If only the watertight compartments had been higher. If only she had paid attention to the ice that night. If only the Californian did come…” 

Bruce Ismay

The word “if” probably the biggest two letter word that plagues human history, looms large in the tragedy of Titanic. The great ship, which was the largest ship and one of the fastest ocean liners of her time was the victim of her owner and operators hubris as much as she was that of the iceberg which sank her. The ship was heralded by Bruce Ismay, the Chairman and Managing Director of the White Star Line as unsinkable, a claim that was echoed in the press.

Her builders had no such illusions and protested the claims. Thomas Andrews the Managing Director of Harland and Wolff Shipyards where she was built commented “The press is calling these ships unsinkable and Ismay’s leadin’ the chorus. It’s just not true.” 

Titanic was designed with the latest shipbuilding innovations, watertight compartments, a double bottom and equipped with wireless. She was billed as “unsinkable” by her owners but those innovations as advanced as they were for her day were insufficient to save her when her Captain and owners chose to charge through a known ice field at full speed.  Her watertight compartments did not extent far enough up the hull to prevent water from going over them.  Likewise it was never imagined that so many watertight compartments could be compromised.

Thomas Andrews

As far as lifeboats, the great ship carried far too few. Thomas Andrews, her builder wanted 64 had his arm twisted to bring the number to 32 and Titanic sailed with only 20 of which 4 were collapsible boats smaller than smaller lifeboats. Justifying himself under antiquated regulations (which were written for ships of 10,000 tons) which allowed just 16 boats J. Bruce Ismay the Director of White Star Line told Andrews:

“Control your Irish passions, Thomas. Your uncle here tells me you proposed 64 lifeboats and he had to pull your arm to get you down to 32. Now, I will remind you just as I reminded him these are my ships. And, according to our contract, I have final say on the design. I’ll not have so many little boats, as you call them, cluttering up my decks and putting fear into my passengers.” 

If only the Californian had come. Californian was the nearest vessel to Titanic and in easy wireless range. However her wireless was unmanned, she did not have enough operators to man it 24 hours a day.  Her lookouts saw Titanic but despite flares being fired from Titanic she never assumed Titanic to be in extremis. The next nearest ship, Carpathia heard the call and made a valiant attempt to reach Titanic but was too late.

If only…so many “if onlys” and so many traceable to one man, the Director of White Star Line J. Bruce Ismay.  Thomas Andrews would go down with the ship but Ismay ensured his own survival. Ismay is symbolic of men who allow their own hubris, vanity and power to destroy the lives of many.  He is so much like those that helped bring about the various economic crises that have wracked the United States and Western Europe and so many other tragedies.

After the disaster the tragedy was investigated by the United States Senate, as well as the British Board of Trade. However, the inquiry of the latter was condemned by the White Star Line’s Archivist, Paul Louden-Brown. He noted: “I think the enquiry is a complete whitewash. You have the [British] Board of Trade in effect enquiring into a disaster that’s largely of its own making.”

Ismay and Titanic are symbols of men guided only by their quest for riches and glory who revel in their power and scorn wise counsel or regulation, government or otherwise. They often believe that rules don’t apply to them. It is a cautionary tale for us today as corporations, lobbyists, and politicians seek to dismantle sensible and reasonable safety and environmental regulations for the sake of their unmitigated profit. Today we are seeing the Trump administration doing all that it can to strip away important safety, workplace, and environmental regulations in order to maximize profits.

But the warning goes far beyond that, it applies to any of us who adopt the mindset, “this cannot happen to us.” After all, there are times when we all end up as victims of our own hubris, such is the human condition.

Until tomorrow,

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Unregulated Hubris: Remembering the Titanic

10-titanic-facts-titanic-go-down

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

Something a bit different today, but something that I think is still important to remember. Today marks the 114th anniversary of the sinking of the R.M.S. Titanic, a story that has been told many times, and one which should be a cautionary tale for those who in the name of profit and glory seek to dismantle safety and environmental standards.I remember reading Walter Lord’s classic treatment of the story, A Night to Remember back in 7th Grade. It made a tremendous impact on me, and every so often I will go back and read it again.

Captain Edward Smith, her Captain was blinded by his faith in shipbuilding technology and had said about the Adriatic which he commanded previously, “I cannot imagine any condition which would cause a ship to founder. I cannot conceive of any vital disaster happening to this vessel. Modern ship building has gone beyond that.”

It is as hard to believe now as it was then. Walter Lord, historian and author talked of the “if onlys” that haunted him about the sinking of Titanic. If only, so many if onlys. If only she had enough lifeboats. If only the watertight compartments had been higher. If only she had paid attention to the ice that night. If only the Californian did come…” 

J._Bruce_Ismay

Bruce Ismay

The word “if” probably the biggest two letter word that plagues human history, looms large in the tragedy of Titanic. The great ship, which was the largest ship and one of the fastest ocean liners of her time was the victim of her owner and operators hubris as much as she was that of the iceberg which sank her. The ship was heralded by Bruce Ismay, the Chairman and Managing Director of the White Star Line as unsinkable, a claim that was echoed in the press.

Her builders had no such illusions and protested the claims. Thomas Andrews the Managing Director of Harland and Wolff Shipyards where she was built commented “The press is calling these ships unsinkable and Ismay’s leadin’ the chorus. It’s just not true.” 

Titanic was designed with the latest shipbuilding innovations, watertight compartments, a double bottom and equipped with wireless. She was billed as “unsinkable” by her owners but those innovations as advanced as they were for her day were insufficient to save her when her Captain and owners chose to charge through a known ice field at full speed.  Her watertight compartments did not extent far enough up the hull to prevent water from going over them.  Likewise it was never imagined that so many watertight compartments could be compromised.

Thomas_Andrews_ül

Thomas Andrews

As far as lifeboats, the great ship carried far too few. Thomas Andrews, her builder wanted 64 had his arm twisted to bring the number to 32 and Titanic sailed with only 20 of which 4 were collapsible boats smaller than smaller lifeboats. Justifying himself under antiquated regulations (which were written for ships of 10,000 tons) which allowed just 16 boats J. Bruce Ismay the Director of White Star Line told Andrews:

“Control your Irish passions, Thomas. Your uncle here tells me you proposed 64 lifeboats and he had to pull your arm to get you down to 32. Now, I will remind you just as I reminded him these are my ships. And, according to our contract, I have final say on the design. I’ll not have so many little boats, as you call them, cluttering up my decks and putting fear into my passengers.” 

If only the Californian had come. Californian was the nearest vessel to Titanic and in easy wireless range. However her wireless was unmanned, she did not have enough operators to man it 24 hours a day.  Her lookouts saw Titanic but despite flares being fired from Titanic she never assumed Titanic to be in extremis. The next nearest ship, Carpathia heard the call and made a valiant attempt to reach Titanic but was too late.

maxresdefault

If only…so many “if onlys” and so many traceable to one man, the Director of White Star Line J. Bruce Ismay.  Thomas Andrews would go down with the ship but Ismay ensured his own survival. Ismay is symbolic of men who allow their own hubris, vanity and power to destroy the lives of many.  He is so much like those that helped bring about the various economic crises that have wracked the United States and Western Europe and so many other tragedies.

Ismay and Titanic are symbols of men guided only by their quest for riches and glory who revel in their power and scorn wise counsel or regulation, government or otherwise. They often believe that rules don’t apply to them. It is a cautionary tale for us today as corporations, lobbyists, and politicians seek to dismantle sensible and reasonable safety and environmental regulations for the sake of their unmitigated profit.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Remembering Titanic 100 Years Later: A Tale Unregulated Hubris

“I cannot imagine any condition which would cause a ship to founder. I cannot conceive of any vital disaster happening to this vessel. Modern ship building has gone beyond that.” -Captain Smith, Commander of Titanic regarding the Adriatic, a previous command

It is as hard to believe now as it was then. Walter Lord, historian and author talked of the “if onlys” that haunted him about the sinking of Titanic. If only, so many if onlys. If only she had enough lifeboats. If only the watertight compartments had been higher. If only she had paid attention to the ice that night. If only the Californian did come…” 

“If” that biggest of two letter words that plagues human history looms large in the tragedy of Titanic. The great ship, the largest ship and one of the fastest ocean liners of her time was the victim of her owner and operators hubris. Her builders had no such illusions and Thomas Andrews the Managing Director of Harland and Wolff Shipyards where she was built commented “The press is calling these ships unsinkable and Ismay’s leadin’ the chorus. It’s just not true.” 

J. Bruce Ismay

Titanic was designed with the latest shipbuilding innovations, watertight compartments, a double bottom and equipped with wireless. She was billed as “unsinkable” by her owners but those innovations as advanced as they were for her day were insufficient to save her when her Captain and owners chose to charge through a known ice field at full speed.  Her watertight compartments did not extent far enough up the hull to prevent water from going over them.  Likewise it was never imagined that so many watertight compartments could be compromised.

 Thomas Andrews

As far as lifeboats there were far too few. Thomas Andrews, her builder wanted 64 had his arm twisted to bring the number to 32 and Titanic sailed with only 20 of which 4 were collapsible boats smaller than smaller lifeboats. Justifying himself under antiquated regulations (which were written for ships of 10,000 tons) which allowed just 16 boats J. Bruce Ismay the Director of White Star Line told Andrews:

“Control your Irish passions, Thomas. Your uncle here tells me you proposed 64 lifeboats and he had to pull your arm to get you down to 32. Now, I will remind you just as I reminded him these are my ships. And, according to our contract, I have final say on the design. I’ll not have so many little boats, as you call them, cluttering up my decks and putting fear into my passengers.” 

If only the Californian had come. Californian was the nearest vessel to Titanic and in easy wireless range. However her wireless was unmanned, she did not have enough operators to man it 24 hours a day.  Her lookouts saw Titanic but despite flares being fired from Titanic she never assumed Titanic to be in extremis. The next nearest ship, Carpathia heard the call and made a valiant attempt to reach Titanic but was too late.

If only…so many “if onlys” and so many traceable to one man, the Director of White Star Line J. Bruce Ismay.  Thomas Andrews would go down with the ship but Ismay ensured his own survival. Ismay is symbolic of men who allow their own hubris, vanity and power to destroy the lives of many.  He is so much like those that helped bring about the various economic crises that have wracked the United States and Western Europe and so many other tragedies.

Ismay and Titanic are symbols of men guided only by their quest for riches and glory who revel in their power and scorn wise counsel or regulation, government or otherwise. Rules don’t apply to them.  Some things never change.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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The Costa Concordia Disaster Compared with Other Maritime Tragedies

The story of the sinking of the RMS Titanic with the loss of nearly 1500 souls mesmerizes those that imagine the worst disasters involving cruise liners or other passenger vessels.  Conveyed by motion pictures the story reaches into the hearts of people, especially romantics and maritime enthusiasts a century after her demise.  The story is legend. The largest ship then in existence, called “unsinkable” she was the symbol of pre-World War One hubris. The arrogance of her owners, the hubris of her Captain and the storied passenger list which included some of the wealthiest and most famous people of her time lend themselves to a romantic tragedy at sea brought to us by Hollywood.

RMS Titanic

However as great of tragedy as was the Titanic disaster the great liner was neither the largest passenger vessel to sink nor the most souls lost at sea. The Costa Concordia now has the dubious distinction of being the largest passenger vessel to ever sink but comes in very low on the scale for number of fatalities.

SS Sultana disaster

The ships with the greatest number of lives lost came in much more obscure disasters.  The greatest loss of life on a passenger vessel during peacetime was the SS Sultana, a side-wheel steamer returning Union Soldiers home following the end of the Civil War. Grossly overcrowded, the ship which was designed to carry under 400 passengers had nearly 2400 souls aboard when one of her boilers exploded causing a fire which consumed the ship. Only 741 people were rescued.

Yet as bad as this tragedy was the worst disaster in maritime history occurred near the end of the Second World War when the SS Wilhelm Gustlaff, a 26,000 ton 684 former cruise liner in the service of the German Navy was torpedoed by the Soviet Submarine S-13 on the night of 30 January 1945. Over 9000 souls, the vast majority civilians or military dependents fleeing the Red Army went down with the ship.  Another great ship, the 38,000 ton RMS Lusitania was sunk by the German U-boat U-20 on May 7th 1915 with the loss of 1198 lives including 128 Americans.

RMS Lusitania (above) and MV Dona Paz (below)

The MV Dona Paz, a ferry with Sulpicio Lines in the Philippines collided with the tanker MT Vector on 27 December 1987 with a loss of over 4000 souls. Called the “Asian Titanic” it was one the worst maritime disasters of modern times.

HMHS Britannic

Titanic’s sister the RMS Britannic was serving as a hospital ship in the First World War when she struck a mine in the Aegean Sea sinking in 55 minutes with the loss of only 30 of over 1100 souls aboard.

Andrea Doria sinking off of New York-New Jersey

Another well known wreck was that of the beautiful Italian liner Andrea Doria which collided with the MV Stockholm and sank on July 26th 1956 with the loss of 46 passengers. The sinking was one of the most memorable of all time because of how it was filmed and the heroism of her Captain who unlike Captain Schettino of the Concordia did not leave the ship until he was sure that all passengers and crew were off  and was willing to go down with the ship.

RMS Queen Elizabeth

Yet the largest liners ever sunk were two of the most glorious of their era the RMS Queen Elizabeth and the French SS Normandie.  Both sank under different names and both were due to fires while in port. The the 83,673 ton Queen Elizabeth was retired from the Cunard Line in the late 1960s and taken to Hong Kong where she was renamed SS Seawise University and burned and sank in Hong Kong harbor on 9 January 1972.

The 83,423 ton SS Normandie, one of the most beautiful ships ever to grace the sea and was the first ship of over 1000 feet long. She was taken over by the US Navy after the French surrender to the Germans. She was renamed was renamed USS Lafayette and while undergoing conversion to a troopship in New York on burned and capsized on the 9-10 February 1942.

SS Normandie/USS Lafayette sunk 

Costa Concordia now lies a few hundred yards off Giglio Island and could either break up or sink into deeper water before she can be salvaged.

All of these events were tragic in their own way be they in war or peace.  Some claimed vast numbers of lives while others resulted in the loss of the most significant ships of their day.  The Costa Concordia is the largest liner ever to go down and things being what they are may not be the last.  Her loss was avoidable by all accounts and hopefully will result in owners, captains and governments doing more to ensure the safety of all that sail the high seas.

For those in peril on the sea….

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Sinking the Costa Concordia: A Lesson in Hubris and Cowardice

“You go up that ladder and get on board the ship. You go on board and you then tell me how many people there are. Is this clear? I am recording this conversation, Commander Schettino.” Commander Di Falco, coastguard

Captain Francesco Schettino acted with hubris and demonstrated cowardice in the sinking of his ship the Costa Concordia.  He has denied taking his ship the massive 114,500 ton Costa Concordia too close to to the island of Giglio but evidence is showing that this is a bold faced lie.  From the what we know now the ship passed too close to a rocky outcropping under 300 meters from the main island but much closer to a smaller rocky island just offshore. The ship based on its AIS tracking system was sailing at about 15.3 knots when she struck the rock on her port quarter at 2137 local time.

Captain Francesco Schettino

Damage was massive and within moments of impact the ship suffered a power outage but evidently still had some power and Schettino or one of his officers attempted to turn the ship toward Giglio harbor, presumably to get her into shallow water so she would not go down in deep water.  Investigators have found the exact point of impact with the rocks off the Le Scole Shoal (42° 21′ 20″ N, 10° 55′ 50″ E)

See map  http://toolserver.org/~geohack/geohack.php?pagename=Costa_Concordia_disaster&params=42_21_20_N_10_55_50_E_ )

If you look at the track charts and diagrams it is easy to see how short of distance the ill fated liner travelled before sinking. She struck the rocks and turned slightly to starboard as she rapidly listed 20 degrees to port. The track shows that Casta Concordia slowed and turned rapidly to port (left) and slowed to a near standstill in the space of about 1000 meters as she lost power as Captain Schettino attempted to get her closer inshore.

The visible damage shows a massive gash of about 150 feet in her port side beginning just aft of midships to her port quarter.  The extent of the damage indicated that her double bottom was pierced and that numerous watertight compartments were breached including her main engineering spaces. The power failure experienced by the ship was most likely due to the flooding in the engineering spaces which powered its electrical generators.

The damage itself was catastrophic and probably mortal, but when she turned to sharply to port she heeled back to starboard as the ship’s center of gravity shift and water in the flooded compartments shifted to starboard.  At 2145 the Chief Engineer informed the captain that the breach could not be repaired and was impossible to manage. Schettino should have ordered the ship abandoned at that moment but waited until 2258 to sound the alarm.   The rapidity with which the ship heeled to starboard could have also been affected by winds and the ship’s proximity to shore.  It is also possible that the very design of such large ships can make them vulnerable to such damage in that with such high superstructures they could be more prone to instability when flooding rapidly.

Concordia rolled over on her starboard side on the rocks off of Point del Lazzaretto eventually settling to the bottom at an 80 degree list. 11 people are known to have died and many more are still missing with hope fading for their rescue.

The situation is made worse by the actions of the Captain of the Concordia, Captain Schettino.  First based on the evidence of previous sailings that this is not the first time that Schettino took the ship close inshore. Apparently he did this to allow show off the ship to the relatives of the Maitre d’hotel of the ship to see the ship pass close to the island. Another report said that Schettino called a former commander now retired who lives on Giglio to let him know that he was coming close to the island.  The fact is that taking a ship the size of Costa Concordia so close to a rocky shore at night for the purpose of showing off is reckless endangerment and an act of hubris.

The second concern is the fact that Schettino abandoned ship and despite repeated orders from a Italian Coast Guard officer to return to the ship did not and that junior officers on their own initiative began to evacuate the ship well before Schettino gave the official order to abandon.

see transcript of the exchange between Schettino and the Coast Guard Officer here http://news.sky.com/home/world-news/article/16150968

After his rescue Schettino claimed that the rock was uncharted and that he was farther out to sea than he actually was.  The fact that Schettino and his First Officer abandoned ship while hundreds of not thousands of passengers were still in danger and refused orders to return to the ship shows cowardice.

The will be more on this but Captain Schettino bears the ultimate responsibility for what happened to his ship and the loss of life.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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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.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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