Learning From the Costa Concordia Disaster: Cruise Ships Can Sink

 
on January 20 2012 8:51 AM
A boat with rescue workers is seen near the Costa Concordia cruise ship
A boat with rescue workers is seen near the Costa Concordia cruise ship. Reports are that rescuers found five more bodies on Tuesday, bring the death tool to 11. Reuters

A cruise ship can't sink these days. That's what I told my young daughter that fitful night we tossed and turned with 4,000 other passengers to the whim's of raging gulf waters in a 14-story tall cruise ship.

Comfort of a frightened child was the ambition, but the Costa Concordia disaster has proven since the words untrue. Yes, it seems a tall and weighty cruise ship with the latest navigation systems and more amenities and luxuries than the highest-end homes can swamp, tip, and even sink.

I never thought we would succumb to the sea that night six years ago, so the comfort to my daughter was delivered with the best of intentions and interpretation of seeming reality.

But it certainly felt that way -- like we were going down. Caught in a dreadful gulf storm off the coast of Belize that the captain could not out run, we tossed and turned like salad particles being shaken and mixed with dressing in a closed plastic container by a hungry lunch patron.

I don't want to die, my daughter said.

She wasn't alone. Most of the ship's passengers lined hallways and large spaces for hours, clinging to one another and choking back vomit as waves three and four stories high whipped the ship for hours. Oddly, I was one of the calm ones on board, perhaps because it didn't seem that disaster was possible. I chuckled as members of a small band who couldn't keep their feet on the ground continued trying to play music in the early hour of the rock and roil.

This feels like the Titanic, I said, buoyed in the jest that 100,000 tons of cruise ship couldn't be overcome by the raging storm.

Nobody laughed.

For good reason, it seems now. Granted, it took what appears to be grotesque human error to cause the disastrous cruise ship sinking off the coast of Italy last week. But the Costa Concordia disaster reminds us all that even a mighty, luxury cruise ship can go down -- just like that.

The ship's captain, Francesco Schettino, is suspected of making an unauthorized detour from the ships programmed route into dangerous, coral reef waters near the coast of a Tuscan island. Reports suggest he either wanted to delight the ship's head water, by running close to his home island, or wanted to delight island residents with a close foghorn-blasting salute.

Either way, Schettino will likely face charges for his actions, which claimed the lives of at least 11 and probably more still missing late Thursday. He'll also go down in history as the modern day captain who abandoned ship, as he was seen on a lifeboat afraid to return to the Costa Concordia to lead the evacuation with frantic passengers still on board.

Some, unfortunately, did not make it off as he did. Divers are still searching for some.

It's not that we'll never return to cruise ships. We will. A cruise is probably leaving somewhere in the world this moment, in fact. But suffice to say if a young daughter asks a father on a cruise today if a ship can sink, he'll know the truthful answer to deliver.

Yes it can, he might say. But it's not likely.

He'll then simply have to hope and pray they've got a good captain in charge.

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