Flashback in maritime history - Costa Concordia grounding, sinking and 32 fatalities, 13 Jan 2012


(www.MaritimeCyprus.com) On 13 January 2012 at 21:45, Costa Concordia struck a rock in the Tyrrhenian Sea just off the eastern shore of Isola del Giglio. This tore open a 50 m (160 ft) gash on the port side of her hull, which soon flooded parts of the engine room, cutting power from the engines and ship services. With water flooding in and the ship listing, she drifted back towards the island and grounded near shore, then rolled onto her starboard side, lying in an unsteady position on a rocky underwater ledge. The evacuation of Costa Concordia took over six hours and of the 3,229 passengers and 1,023 crew known to have been aboard, 32 died.

The graphics and maps below reveal more about what happened.


The Costa Concordia left the Italian port of Civitavecchia at 19:18 local time (18:18 GMT).

The ship was heading out on a week-long cruise around the Mediterranean with 3,206 passengers and 1,023 crew onboard.

As it made its way north-west along the Italian coastline, Captain Francesco Schettino ordered the ship to be steered close to the island of Giglio as a “salute”.

Italy’s Ministry of Infrastructure and Transport published a detailed timeline of events in its report into the accident (PDF), released in May 2013.

Other details emerged at pre-trial hearings, including excerpts of the frantic conversations between the Captain and his crew in the aftermath of the accident, captured by the ship’s “black box” voice recorder.

Nearing Giglio just after 21.30, the captain gave the helmsman coordinates, followed by the warning “otherwise we go on the rocks”.

Minutes later, at 21:45, the Costa Concordia hit a rocky outcrop while travelling at around 16 knots.

How the Costa Concordia capsized

The ship was holed on the left-hand side, started taking on water and began to tilt. Engine rooms were flooded and power was lost.

The crew struggled to assess the situation and relayed incomplete information to the Italian authorities.

At 21:52 the chief engineer and electrical officer tried and failed to start the ship’s emergency diesel generator.

Shortly afterwards, passengers were told that the ship was suffering a “blackout”, but that the situation was under control. The same information was given to the harbour master at Civitavecchia.

Costa Concordia crew member tells coastguard “we have a blackout”

Positioning data shows that the Costa Concordia turned and began to drift back towards the island’s port soon after 22:00 due to, investigators say, a combination of the wind and the rudder positioned to starboard (right).

As it drifted, the ship then began to list in the opposite direction, possibly caused by water in the damaged hull rushing to the far side during the turn.

At 22:12, the coastguard called the ship to say passengers were reporting problems to the local police, but the captain replied: “We have a blackout and we are checking the conditions on board.”

At 22:22 the captain gave orders to tell the coastguard that they had had a “failure” and needed help from tug boats. The radio operator did this and added that all the passengers had been given life jackets, none was injured and there was a gash in the left side of the ship.

At 22:33 the general emergency alarm was raised and passengers told to go to muster stations and await instructions.

By 22:48 the ship had settled on the rocky sea bed, tilted by more than 30 degrees. The captain finally gave the order to abandon ship at at 22:54.

Most passengers escaped in lifeboats, but evacuation efforts were hampered by the angle of the tilting ship. The coastguard launched boats and helicopters to carry stranded passengers to safety.

At 23:19 Captain Schettino abandoned the bridge, leaving the second master to co-ordinate the evacuation.

However by 23:32 the second master also left the bridge. Around 300 passengers and some crew were still on board.

At midnight dozens of passengers remained, many clinging to the exposed side of the ship.

In a conversation recorded at 00:42, a coastguard commander ordered the captain to get back on board. He did not, and went ashore.

The rescue continued over the weekend, with the ship’s safety officer, Marrico Giampietroni, being discovered and evacuated with a broken leg at 12:00 on Sunday. A South Korean couple were also rescued.

A recording was released in which the coastguard ordered Captain Schettino to ‘get back on board’. Capt Schettino was arrested and later went on trial, charged with multiple counts of manslaughter and abandoning ship. He admitted making a navigational error, and told investigators he had “ordered the turn too late” as the ship sailed close to the island.

The ship’s owners, Costa Cruises, said the captain had made an “unapproved, unauthorised” deviation in course, sailing too close to the island in order to show the ship to locals.

Crash investigationAutomatic tracking systems show the route of the Costa Concordia until it ran aground on 13 January. Data from 14 August 2011 show the ship followed a similar course close to the shoreline, according to Lloyd’s List Intelligence. On 6 January 2012, it passed through the same strait but sailed much further from the island. Divers searched the ship as it rested on the seabed in about 20m of water. The operation had to be suspended a number of times as the ship shifted position. The sea floor eventually drops to about 100m.


The Dutch salvage firm Smit brought a barge alongside the ship and divers installed external tanks to collect the diesel. More than 2,200 tonnes of fuel was eventually extracted, but the engineers were unable to remove all of it from some of the most inaccessible tanks. The decision to salvage the ship, rather than break it up, was taken in May 2012, four months after the disaster. The contract – awarded jointly to salvage companies Titan and Micoperi – was described as an unprecedented operation. The ship was eventually refloated in July 2014 and taken to Genoa, for the final scrapping operation.

The captain Francesco Schettino, who was dubbed Captain Coward for his actions, was sentenced to 16 years in jail for manslaughter last year. More than 4,000 passengers were evacuated from the stricken vessel – but the captain fled before everyone had made it safety.

Salvage and scrapping efforts are estimated to have cost roughly £1.2billion – making it the most expensive maritime wreck recovery in history.


Watch video: Costa Concordia, Before and After (credit: TheSeaLad)

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  1. A short time ago, the cruise/passenger ship era was transformed by the entry of the entertainment industry. Since then, the marine and entertainment industries have been uneasy bedfellows, much like a newly married couple who married for convenience rather than love.

    The Marine industry for many years has had one abiding priority and that has been the safety of those on board and the ship, although tempered by cost consideration. This resulted in the fact that while it was important that the passengers enjoyed their time on board, this was not at the expense of safety and all aspects of the ship both design, operation and legislation was formulated to cope with this. Profit came from the carriage of the passengers and the authority of the Master and his executive officers was unquestioned. Their professionalism and ability came before all else with leadership imbued in them from their beginnings of their trade.

    The Entertainment Industry, on the other hand, exists to provide entertainment and the greater the entertainment the greater the profit. The comfort of their guests was paramount. Leadership was rarely a matter of concern as was overall safety. Legislation was just a hindrance that could be overcome by what politely could be termed as ‘persuasion’ which probably accounts for the fact that CLIA, their representative body, gave over 10 million dollars over the last 10 years to US politicians alone.

    This is not to say that safety is ignored, however, it does not have the same priority as the marine industry. Equally, the command and leadership of the ship does not have the same priority. The entertainment side feels more comfortable with their own personnel in charge of most of the ship functions than that of the traditional executive or bridge branch thus gradually their command position has been diminished.

    This is understandable and probably in normal situations enhances the operation of the ships as a whole. Neither does it mean that the new style of operatives are disinterested in the overall safety. However, both industries are still learning how to work together and mistakes inevitably occur during this process. When these occur, what is essential is that we admit to them and by investigation and open discussion, we learn from them to avoid repetition. This often means that there is a need to curb the use of Public Relations and Marketing departments that have inevitably grown with these ships. By their nature, disclosure or acceptance of fault is the last option in any incident and of course, this hinders any investigation, especially in an environment that, with the IMO’s constant failure to act on safety matters and the flag states heading their own investigations, allows a liberal scope for obstruction and worse, interference.

    In the case of Costa Concordia, the use of ‘smoke and mirrors’ began from the very start of the incident until the Captain was well and truly behind bars bearing the full blame for the affair.

    One must wonder at the interference that was made with the final safety report which left so many unanswered questions, except where the Captain was concerned. It is hard to believe that marine professionals could have written such a soft report leaving so much un-investigated and questions unanswered. They completely avoided the ISM Code which would have pointed directly at the management ashore and, while making points regarding their actions, failed to follow these up. Considering the long delay in publication, and ignoring the rather foolish explanation that the prosecution had taken evidence that they could not get back, I suggest that the better explanation was that, considering the very close relationship between Government and Company and the seemingly very poor standard of the report, certain interested parties held back the release until the report was sanitised to their satisfaction.

    The safety report should make mention that IMO legislation is urgently needed regarding the safety of those trapped in these lifts and that they should return to a deck in order that those inside can escape. Further that when the main power fails on board, then these lifts cannot be used.

    The IMO must consider the implications of their propagation of the ‘ship is a lifeboat’ theory. Certainly the present ‘hotel’ ships cannot be considered that. I do not discount the possibility of designing ships that have a far better chance of this than the present generation but considering the reluctance of many of these companies to even place adequate lifejackets on board, I have a feeling that it will be a long time before we see the changes in design and management attitude required. In the meantime, all ships must be prepared for abandonment and there should be no delay in passengers being mustered by their assigned boats and even being ordered into them to await the final decision. Discomfort is far preferable to a worse alternative.

    If the cruise industry has based ship abandonment criteria on the model as presented by the IMO, it can be seen that it is deeply flawed. I suggest that the factors I have shown will at least double the evacuation time, which would mean that none of the existing hotel ships can pass the time criteria.
    the Criteria for evacuation must be based on worst case scenario rather than the present best case and abandonment be made taking into account all factors of weather, heel and list, darkness, distance from the muster point to the boat embarkation position, number of elderly, inform and handicapped persons on board, possible fire and smoke and estimated number of intoxicated persons on board.

    As all crew members will be involved in any abandonment which could be at any time, it surely is essential that a strict control of alcohol for all crew members be enforced.

    The ships should be designed to ensure that the muster stations are by the boats with ample space for assembly and even sitting arrangements for passengers to await any embarkation order. Each boat muster station should be supplied with a first aid and triage trained crew member, a first aid pack and a defibrillator. Having such a place to await abandonment would assist in removing a considerable amount of the probable panic situation from the abandonment equation and enable those with minor injuries to be assessed and treated. In the case of the Concordia, many, both passengers and crew were injured in the abandonment and chaos phase and still left on board.

    That the muster station be where passengers are supplied with their lifejackets. At the same time, lifejackets be also stored in the public rooms in case of inability to use the muster points.
    There should also be a study as to why passengers should embark enclosed lifeboats wearing lifejackets. If anything did go wrong, very few of them would be able to evacuate the lifeboat.

    Cruise ships should be required to adopt either double hulls/double side skins exactly the same as the oil and chemical carriers, bulk carriers and container ships, especially those going into ice waters or two longitudinal bulkheads extending from the collision bulkhead to the aftermost bulkhead.

    That the new re-evaluation lifeboat and life-raft spaces be required for all cruise ships regardless of date of build.

    That cruise ships should carry sufficient lifeboats for ALL on board.

    That a number of lifeboats specifically designed for disabled or infirm passengers be carried. That the cabins for disabled passengers be required to be on the same or next to the embarkation deck. Until this can be applied that there be a limitation on the number of disabled passengers carried, especially those in wheelchairs.

    That man overboard systems be fitted.

    That all lifejackets be replaced for a type that incorporates a hood, face mask and crotch strap.

    That notices be placed on all open upper decks above 4.5 meters stating that it is dangerous to jump from these decks with lifejackets on.

    That the procedure for jumping into the water with lifejackets on be stated and demonstrated at the joining musters and a notice be posted in each cabin.

    That passengers are advised of the warm clothing requirement before joining and that the wearing of this clothing at the muster be strictly enforced especially on ships sailing in winter months and in ice conditions.

    That either all forward facing external lighting except for the navigation lights be extinguished or windows curtained, or that the navigation lights fitted be increased in size and brightness.

    That on cruises of over two weeks duration, every two weeks, all passengers be mustered at their muster point and that all lifeboats are lowered to the embarkation position. That if the the initial muster place is away from the boarding muster position, the muster drill include the passengers being conducted from the muster point to their lifeboat.

    That the uniforms on board reflect the command responsibility and that the operational officers can be well defined from the hotel staff. This will avoid confusion with the operational officers and crew of the ship who will be giving the command orders during any emergency.

    That sufficient trained seamen are employed to enable each lifeboat to carry 3 and each liferaft have 1. These should not be hotel or entertainment staff.

    Of course I do not expect agreement with all I have said, nor do I claim that I am correct in all my assumptions but this is intended as points for discussion. It might seem that all this is asking too much but as the prime consideration of seamen is the safety of those on board, our function as seamen professionals is to consider all the problems and deal with them before the event rather than the reactive approach currently used. We rely on the IMO and SOLAS regulation for leadership but when that doesn’t happen, are we to stand back and wait for the next accident and then the next?

    This is exactly what we are doing and each time we point our finger at SOLAS and say, ‘The equipment conformed,’ ‘The design conformed’ or ‘The ship was manned according to the safe manning certificate,’ as if that can exonerate us from responsibility for those injured or killed. We have a professional voice and I suggest if we used this more often, it would be to the benefit of all those at sea.

    Hopefully we can learn from this accident as it could be the last chance we have to get it right. According to Christine Duffy of the Cruise Lines International Association ‘We are wholly committed to examining what happened and to identify lessons that can be learnt.’

    CLIA then completely ignored the evidence of many failures of the cruise company and the equipment and machinery on board the ship.

    Possibly one of the strangest events took place a few months later, but still, even by then, rather disturbing allegations were coming through regarding the behaviour of the crew. In September 2012, Lloyd's List of London awarded the title of Seafarers of the Year recognising the best professional sailing and ship to the Costa Concordia crew for their exemplary behaviour during the shipwreck which has saved most of the ship's passengers. Many representatives of the leading marine institutions attended the presentation and applauded what can only be termed as the most bizarre presentation for years. One must wonder as to the inducement that initiated such an award which insulted those who died, were injured and traumatised by the events that transpired on that night.

    It might seem strange for those who were injured or traumatised to understand, but they were very lucky. The wrong wind direction, and this ship would have drifted into deep water and capsized taking probably thousands with her providing a disaster encompassing those of the Titanic and giving us the greatest peacetime marine disaster in history. The final fortune was that the ship grounded so close to the land and a harbour and immediately the shore rescue services worked so admirably and unceasingly until all those alive were found and brought to safety.

    With all the faults, both ashore and on board, the failure of the safety equipment, boats and life-rafts, the untrained and inexperienced crew, the language problems, the lack of basic navigational skills, the lack of leadership and chain of command, it is impossible to claim that this ship was seaworthy for its prime duty, the carriage of passengers in safety.

    I will leave the final comment to an unknown passenger who has obviously been around cruise ships.

    “At the end of all this,” he predicted, “it will all be for nothing. You wait and see.”

    How True.