Not One Mans Mistake

Costa Concordia holds valuable lessons — and we need to learn them sooner not later
by Michael Grey.                       Lloyds List Monday 15 October 2012
THE other day, I went to Liverpool, where the UK branch of the officers’ union Nautilus was holding its conference. Not being involved with union business, I wandered off to Merseyside Maritime Museum, where a new exhibition commemorates the 1980 loss of the oil-bulk-ore carrier Derbyshire and all 44 people on board. The real heroes are the Derbyshire Families Association, which refused to accept this was just another unexplained loss and campaigned tirelessly to discover the wreck and the reasons for the casualty. The small, accessible exhibition communicates the great sadness that surrounded the disappearance of the ship. Seeing the various artefacts and pictures of the shattered remains discovered on the sea bottom, it is difficult not to think of all those hundreds of other seafarers whose ships also vanished without trace in the 1980s and 1990s who had no DFA to fight for a more substantial explanation than “heavy weather”.
“A century on from the sinking of Titanic , how much progress have we really made on passengership safety?” This was the topic of Nautilus UK’s afternoon session and a very capable panel assembled to debate this subject. Robert Ashdown of the European Cruise Council spoke of the size and importance of the cruise sector and of the work of the operational Safety Review, put together to see what could be learned after the Costa Concordia incident in January.
The OSR is a very practical and important strategy that will ensure best practices are shared. There is no secret that the human element has been seen as a common theme, but it is also realistic and sensible to admit that although safety is pre-eminent, there is no guarantee it is foolproof.
Andrew Higgs, who spends a lot of time at the International Maritime Organization representing the International Union of Marine Insurers, suggested several features of this billion-dollar loss that cost 32 lives needed urgent clarification.
He said there was a need to question evacuation procedures, damaged stability and buoyancy, soft issues such as seamanship and the human element, hard issues such as speed of evacuation and use of that “golden hour” immediately after an accident.
Eight hours after Costa Concordia grounded, people were still leaving the wreck.
Maritime and Coastguard Agency naval architect Paul Coley pointed to the huge numbers of people at risk in today’s giant cruiseships and noted the main thrust of work on damage to stability in recent years had concentrated on problems with ro-ro vehicle decks.
Mr Coley asked what constituted an “acceptable risk” with changing societal attitudes, and introduced the concept of the ship being its own best lifeboat, with duplication of essential services to get a damaged ship back to port.
Former Marine Accident Investigation Branch chief inspector John Lang spoke of the huge burden on Italy’s accident investigators, hampered by the precedence claimed by the criminal investigation. This, he maintained, was not an accident investigation, even though it pandered to modern demands for blame to be apportioned and to the feeling “something must be done”.
Admiral Lang suggested that we needed to learn about the things that went right in such accidents, as much as those that obviously went wrong. We needed facts, proper evidence and publication in full, not leaks or speculation if there was to be any trust in the process of discovery.
Costa Concordia , like Titanic a century before, was more than one man’s mistake.
Allan Graveson of Nautilus spoke of the long-held concerns about cruiseships, the validity of the “safe return to port” concept and the varying attitudes of flag states to the safety of cruiseships.
He suggested the design of ships, rather than sheer size, was the most important issue and called for the regulatory approach to statistical frequency of serious accidents to be revisited.
This was a good-humoured debate around a deadly serious subject and, in the absence of the Italian report into the Costa Concordia loss, arguably a little premature.
But a number of important issues were raised, not least the deplorable way in which the master was treated and doubts about Italian investigative capabilities, bearing in mind the administration’s failure to publish any meaningful report about the earlier fatal accident involving Costa Europa .
It is worth remembering the spirit of the relatives of those lost on board Derbyshire, who would not give up until a proper investigation into the loss of this huge ship had been completed.
We need to keep nagging until the Italian authorities provide a thorough, transparent and authoritative account of Costa Concordia ’s loss. The relatives of the 32 people who died — and, indeed, all who go on cruises — deserve nothing less.

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