Thursday, January 19, 2012

Costa Concordia: The Truth Begins to Emerge

I think we are now just *starting* to get a full a sense of what happened.

From the various reports I have seen, though still all subject to the inherently unreliable nature of media hearsay, Schettino intentionally skirted the coast of Giglio as a 'salute'.  Recent reports indicate that he says that he was navigating by sight, because he had done this same maneouver on multiple previous occasions.  Incidentally, he had come closer to the island on at least one previous occasion.

So there is certainly fault to be apportioned to Schettino.  He certainly shouldn't have been navigating by sight in those waters, hindsight being 20/20, but many analyses suggest that the maneouver itself was inherently reckless, and that is more difficult.  Some reports suggest that previous salutes had been expressly authorized by the cruiseline; regardless, the cruiseline clearly knew of the salutes, and apparently did nothing to curtail them.  Silence gives consent, as they say.  It's hard to hold the employee solely accountable for a practice approved by the employer.

I still wonder why there were no automated alarms with an impending collision.  We have cars that can parallel park themselves; surely we can have proximity sensors on the hulls of cruiseships.

After the collision, Schettino turned the ship around to pull it closer to shore, which is almost certain to have saved lives.  It put the ship firmly in shallow water, meaning that despite capsizing, it never fully sank.  Not to mention being close enough to shore to permit many people (including one couple from Calgary) to forego lifeboats and just swim the distance.  The ship otherwise may or may not have sank before the mass evacuation was complete, but regardless there were survivors rescued as late as two days after the accident.  That doesn't happen with submerged wrecks.  So credit where it's due:  That was a good call.

How about the whole 'abandoning ship' issue?

Okay, so reportedly the captain has claimed that he fell into a lifeboat.  That seems improbable.  Not impossible, given the listing of the ship and the crowding of the passengers, but it still seems a little too convenient.

Still, other reports indicate that "as many as 300 of the 4200 passengers" were still on board when the captain left the ship.  In other words, the evacuation was about 93% complete when he left.

Folks should read the transcript of the conversation between Captain Schettino and the Coast Guard's Captain De Falco.  I've seen a number of reactions to this conversation, being highly critical of Schettino's lack of response and 'resistance' to De Falco, and even a story calling De Falco a "national hero" for ordering Schettino to get back on the ship.

I remain a little more sympathetic to Schettino.  First of all, that transcript is not a conversation.  De Falco was tearing into Schettino from the start, barely letting him say a thing, constantly cutting him off.  So if Schettino's explanations seem incomplete or appear to lack context, that would probably be because De Falco didn't let him explain.  Schettino claimed to be coordinating the rescue efforts from the rescue boats.  Which, to me, makes sense.  De Falco said that he should get back on the listing ship to coordinate from there.  Which seems less practical.  I know that I'd be much more effective in receiving and processing information and directing other personnel accordingly if I'm not trying to keep my balance on a near-vertical floor and simultaneously trying to manage an irate crowd.

And, in context, with the evacuation at least 93% complete and rescue crews on site by sea and air, one kind of has to wonder why De Falco was so intent on tearing Schettino to shreds.  It appears that De Falco was in Livorno (between 150 and 200 km north of wear the accident occurred), and open lines of communication - i.e. a real two-way conversation - between Schettino (who is familiar with the ship, present on the rescue boats, and aware of what's going on at the site) and De Falco (who is commanding the air rescue) might have been helpful.  De Falco's approach to the dialogue (or monologue, as the case may be), though clearly earning him accolades in the public eye, strikes me as being counterproductive in the circumstances.

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