Costa Concordia: The Loss of a 114,147-ton Cruise Ship – Other Cruise News: The IMO’s New 2010 Passenger Ship Safety Regulations

by Kevin Griffin

The loss of the Costa Concordia off the Italian island of Giglio on Friday the 13th has kept our media busy over the weekend as more than 4,200 passengers and crew were rescued from a cruise ship that ultimately capsized. Not long after leaving Rome’s port of Civitavecchia, the ship hit underwater rocks and took a 160-foot gash in her port side below the waterline. At last report, there were six dead and fourteen missing in the sinking’s aftermath. Now is thus a good time to have a look at the International Maritime Organization’s new rules for passenger ship safety. These rules apply to newly-built ships, which are meant to be designed with the capability of returning to port or making the nearest port in the event of a major casualty, fire or loss of power, so that evacuation would not be necessary. These new rules have been brought about because of the large number of ships that, like the Costa Concordia, have been built in recent years to carry between 4,000 and 7,000 souls. Unlike the Costa Concordia, therefore, newly-built cruise ships will be designed to become their own lifeboat.


Costa Concordia: The Loss of a 114,147-ton Cruise Ship

At about 7 pm on Friday, the 13th of January, Costa Cruises’ 3,800-berth Costa Concordia departed from Civitavecchia, bound for her home port of Savona with 4,234 persons on board, including about 1,000 crew. Within a couple of hours, their cruise would be over.

Although the Italian Coast Guard said the first alarm was sounded at about 10:30 pm, passengers had reported that the ship had “grounded” during their dinner. An announcement was made of some sort of electrical or power failure, but in the end, for whatever reason, the ship struck rocks and ended up with a 160-foot gash on her port side below the waterline.

The Fincantieri-built, Registro Italiano Navale-classed Costa Concordia had a good record, having passed numerous port state control inspections with no deficiencies, except for one incident in 2008 when she sustained bow damage after hitting a berth at Palermo.
So, rather than look at the ship’s evacuation and all its human interest stories, let’s have a look at just some of the other information that has come to light.

Automatic Information System Vessel Traffic records released by Turkish Maritime News web site show that the ship seems to have followed an unusual route. After leaving Civitavecchia she took the usual route and a course that would have taken her into deep water between the island of Giglio and the Tuscan mainland.

However, about 7 to 8 nautical miles from that channel she made a course alteration of about 20 degrees, turning to port, on a heading that would have brought her straight onto Giglio Island. She then apparently passed between two rocks to the east of Giglio. The Turkish site thus asks why such a large ship would pass between two rocks when she could have been in deeper water. Why was the ship there and was it due to a mechanical failure?

There was also some question about the ship having been on autopilot not long after having left Civitavecchia, when manual control might have been more appropriate that close to land. Whatever the case, those positions and courses have all been recorded and the ship’s black box has been recovered so all of this will become part of the enquiry.

Meanwhile, from Marine Traffic we have the following:

20:21 – 15.7 knots, heading 278 – the course that led straight to Giglio
20:29 – 15.4 knots, heading 278
20:33 – 15.4 knots, heading 276
20:37 – 15.3 knots, heading 285 – start of a turn away from the island, now ±1 mile ahead?
20:53 – 2.9 knots, heading 351 – now less than 500m from the shore
20:58 – 1.4 knots, heading 007
21:01 – 1.1 knots, heading 013
The change of course and drop in speed between 20:37 and 20:53 would seen to identifty the moments of crisis.

After she was holed, the ship developed a list of about 20 degrees to starboard but she would ultimately capsize before morning. Passengers reported panic on the vessel but fortunately she was in shallow water and as well as those that got away in the lifeboats, which were difficult to launch because of the vessel’s list, a number were able to swim the short distance to the island of Giglio.

It was among those jumping into the water that the first three casualties were reported, however. And because of the 20 degree list, not all the lifeboats could be launched, so others had to be rescued by helicopter.

A major point in the investigation that will follow will undoubtedly be the survivability of the ship, particularly its stability. How quickly she lost stability and why she settled away from the damage to the hull will be areas for investigation.

There are many questions to be answered. Why was she three or four nautical miles off course in the first place? Why did she hit a rock or rocks that caused such critical damage to her hull? Why did she settle on the side oppoiste to the damage?

Costa generally has a good safety record, having lost two ships in the past fifty years. In 1961, the Bianca C burned and sank at Grenada and in 1984 the Columbus C sank in the port of Cadiz after ramming the breakwater there. As these losses occurred before Costa became part of Carnival Corporation, it is only Carnival’s second ship loss after the sail-assisted cruise ship Wind Song was abandoned in French Polynesia in 2002 after an engine room fire, in that case without loss of life.

One other question that arises, and this does not apply just to Costa is why emergency drills are only required “within twenty-four hours of sailing” instead of before sailing. Is this some sort of loophole for ferries?
Huge cruise ships carrying 4,000 souls are not ferries and there will probably be a change here as well, especially in view of the confusion that seems to have existed on board Costa Concordia. This cruise had three embarkation ports, at Savona, Marseilles and Civitavecchia, and I am pretty willing to bet that passengers boarding at each of these port will be drilled before dinner in future.

It was also the second grounding in a week for an Italian operator, as the MSC Poesia went aground off Grand Bahama Island on January 8, but was freed by four tugs shortly thereafter.

Meanwhile police in Porto Santo Stefano detained the Costa Concordia’s Captain Francesco Schettino and first officer Ciro Ambrosio on Saturday. Although the captain maintains he was the last to leave the ship, Italian media reports have said he was ashore around 11:40 pm on Friday while the last passengers were not evacuated until 6 am on Saturday. Prosecutors are said to be investigating possible charges of multiple manslaughter and abandoning ship while passengers were still in danger.

Costa Cruises issued an official statement last night, which said in part “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 IMO’s New Passenger Ship Safety Regulations

In view of this weekend’s news, it is worth reading about new IMO regulations governing passenger ships that came into effect just over eighteen months ago. The following is based on information taken from the IMO web site:

A comprehensive package of amendments to the international regulations affecting new passenger ships entered into force on 1 July 2010. Increased emphasis is now placed on reducing the chance of accidents occurring and on improved survivability, embracing the concept of the ship as “’its own best lifeboat.”

The amendments affect passenger ship regulations in the International Convention for the Safety of Life at Sea (SOLAS), and came about as the result of a comprehensive review of passenger ship safety initiated in 2000 by the IMO, the United Nations agency responsible for the safety and security of shipping.

The aim was to assess whether existing regulations were adequate to meet future challenges, in particular to address issues related to the increased size of passenger ships now being built. The amendments were adopted in 2006.

The guiding philosophy behind this review was based on the premise that regulations should place more emphasis on the prevention of a casualty in the first place and that future passenger ships should be designed for improved survivability so that, in the event of a casualty, persons can stay safely on board, in a “safe area” as the ship proceeds to port.

The amendments include new concepts such as the incorporation of design criteria for the casualty threshold (the amount of damage a ship is able to withstand, according to the design basis, and still safely return to port). The amendments also provide regulatory flexibility so that ship designers can meet future safety challenges.

The amendments, which affect new ships built from 1 July 2010, include:

1. Alternative designs and arrangements

2. The provision of safe areas and essential systems to be maintained while a ship proceeds to port after a casualty, including redundancy of propulsion and other essential systems;

3. On-board safety centres, from where safety systems can be controlled, operated and monitored;

4. Fixed fire detection and alarm systems, including fire detectors and manually-operated call points capable of being remotely and individually identified;

5. Fire prevention, including amendments to enhance the fire safety of atriums, means of escape in case of fire and ventilation systems; and

6. Time for orderly evacuation and abandonment, including essential systems that must remain operational in case any one main vertical zone is unserviceable due to fire.

Other SOLAS amendments relate to intact stability, particularly in waves, ships’ load lines, water-mist nozzles, life-saving devices for infants and larger passengers, EPIRBs (Emergency Position Indicating Radio Beacons) and navigation bridge visibility, among other things.

The SOLAS Convention has been the most important of all international treaties governing the safety of merchant ships. The first version was adopted in 1914, in response to the Titanic disaster, and further versions followed in 1929, 1948, and 1960. Today’s version is known as SOLAS 1974, as amended.

(Kevin Griffin is managing director of specialist cruise agency The Cruise People Ltd in London, England. For further information concerning cruises mentioned in this article readers can visit his blog)

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