The chaotic organisation of passengers on the Concordia, with deadly consequences for some, raises serious questions about emergency procedures and crew training on cruise ships.
Imagine hearing this exclamation, which was captured on amateur video, when you are desperate to seek safety: “Eh, eh, tranquili, mamma mia, madonna!”
In the frantic disorder of a life boat, a voice is heard urging others: “Take pictures! It will be important in establishing whose fault this is.”
The late order to abandon ship prevented any normal lowering of many lifeboats, with the ship leaning at such an angle by this time.
One Italian passenger said: “Some lifeboats were very shaky when they hit the sea, and let in some water. Ours kept striking the sides of the ship because as it was keeling over. The boats could not be lowered vertically.”
Other passengers from the Concordia said the crew were pitifully unprepared.
US citizen Brian Aho faulted “…the lack of training for the staff, who were attempting to help us but didn’t even know how to use the lifeboats.”
Two thirds of onboard staff were hotel and restaurant workers, entertainment support and service personnel – vastly outnumbering professional sailors. Yet the CEO of the operating company deflected blame for the accident.
Pier Luigi Foschi said: “Our ships are as safe today as they were on Friday. What happened has nothing to do with maritime safety, nothing to do with our policies and procedures, or our technology, training and the quality of our staff.”
Yet international maritime law requires that a vessel have enough capable crew to ensure safe operation. Cruise liners carrying thousands of passengers and staff, however, may only have 40 or 50 real sailors.
A British sailors’ union official also pointed to lack of innovation as a problem.
Allan Graveson, National Secretary with Nautilus International, said: “We’re using lifeboats, which is essentially hundred-year-old technology. Yes, there have been some improvements in launching systems, and they are enclosed, but we need to move beyond this. You saw in this incident life rafts hanging from the side of the ship – not possible to disembark all of the lifeboats. What we need to look at now is new systems, including escape pods, which people can walk into.”
Costa say staff on ship do evacuation exercises every two weeks, and insist rules were followed. Seeing how things were done in the Concordia emergency the broad public may take some convincing. Market figures suggest the effort holds ample incentive for the industry, as some 19 million people boarded a cruise in 2010.