Friday, January 13, 2012

Costa Concordia Evacuated

Updated Jan 23 - 130pm eastern time to update the results of Monday's search, decision to begin debunkering fuel, and latest Costa statement.

The 112,000-ton Costa Concordia was evacuated Friday night after it began taking on water through a gash opened in the hull and listing dangerously. The ship had left Civitavecchia earlier in the evening and was sailing north to Savona, near the Isola del Giglio at the time of the incident. Records showed 4231 people were aboard at the time, 3208 passengers and 1023 crew members.

The incident began about 9pm local time (3pm EST) about two hours after leaving Civitavecchia. At a Monday morning press conference, Costa chairman and CEO Pier Luigi Foschi said the ship was traveling too close to the shore, on a route not approved by the company, struck a rock which opened a gash in the ship's hull, allowing water to flood in, causing the electrical failure, and the ship began to list.

Costa first said in a statement Sunday afternoon that there are preliminary indications that there was "significant human error on the part of the ship’s master, Captain Francesco Schettino, which resulted in these grave consequences. The route of the vessel appears to have been too close to the shore, and in handling the emergency the captain appears not to have followed standard Costa procedures."

Costa said Captain Schettino joined Costa in 2002 as a safety officer and was appointed captain in 2006.

In the press conference Monday morning, Foschi said the company now believes the captain "wanted to show the ship to the Island of Giglio, so he decided to change the course of the ship to go closer to the island and pass through in front of the bigger city that sits on the island." He said that once before, in August 2011 this was done, but in that instance it was planned and authorized by Costa, and a route was approved by the company, but even then it was not nearly as close to shore then as the ship came last Friday. (Press reports from last August say the event was very popular with island residents who came out by the hundreds to cheer as they watched the ship pass.)

Foschi said that the ship had not initially run aground in Friday's incident. There was plenty of water under the hull when it struck the small rock. Foschi said the rock is charted on detailed charts, but not on others. He does not know if the captain, who made the decision to change the course of the ship from the normal route, was using the more detailed charts.

Passengers reported hearing a loud noise followed shortly thereafter by a general power outage, and the ship quickly began to list.

The collision opened a gash in the hull more than 100 feet long, below the waterline. Photos of the gash indicate the damage was caused by the ship striking an object in the water. The pieces of the hull appear to be pushed into the ship rather than bending outward as they would if there were an explosion inside the ship. That can be seen in this Reuters photo taken Saturday morning.

There is still no time line available, but according to Costa, the situation deteriorated relatively rapidly. It is believed that within one and two hours after the hole was opened in the hull, the ship had developed a 20-degree list, as shown in a photo published by Il Secolo.

Many passengers are reporting that they were being told there was only an electrical problem and to go to their staterooms. This well could have been because there were no immediate announcements from the bridge, due to their working to assess the problem and subsequently, the damage, before making an announcement. Costa confirmed that the captain, Francesco Schettino, was on the bridge at the time of the accident.

Many passengers report hearing an announcement to report to their muster stations, but many others did not hear it. It’s possible this was due to a language problem.

The decision to abandon ship apparently came very quickly, and there rightfully would have been a delay while preparations were made. There was confusion reported during the evacuation, although there is video being posted that shows passengers waiting quietly and orderly at their muster stations. The confusion seemed to be caused by the difficulty in launching lifeboats as a result of the list and also by passengers pressing to launch them before the final order had been received by crew members to launch the lifeboats.

American media, talking with American passengers seems to be making much of the fact that passengers who boarded in Civitavecchia had not yet had their emergency drill, and that may have added confusion for some. Their drill was scheduled for Saturday afternoon, within 24 hours of departure as prescribed under SOLAS regulations. The ship makes a circuitous routing with passengers boarding at most ports, so most passengers, who would have boarded at ports prior to Civitavecchia, would have already attended their own emergency drills. Only 696 passengers of the 3208 passengers boarded at Civitavecchia and therefore had not had the actual emergency drill. When they boarded, however, there is a video playing in the stateroom that explains the emergency procedures, and as prescribed by SOLAS regulations, there is signage in each cabin that gives basic emergency instructions, including where that particular cabin's muster station is located.

From the various photos being published of the ship listing that were taken during the night, such as this one published in the Daily Mail, it would seem that the ship was changing position, as it was probably being maneuvered closer to shore. It appears at the end, the master intentionally grounded the vessel, which would be proper procedure to prevent it from sinking.

Photos taken Saturday morning show that the grounded ship was not in deep enough water to keep it upright, and it had rolled onto its side, revealing the gash that was under the waterline.

Video shot Saturday morning is very revealing. There are also daylight aerial views in some videos. La Repubblica now has some closer video of the gash that was under the waterline.

The number of missing people was adjusted Monday afternoon to 29 by the Italian Coast Guard and reported by ANSA Italian state news agency. That includes 4 crew members and 25 passengers, including two Americans. As people had been located the number unaccounted for was previously being reported as a total of 15. It was raised when families of those previously thought accounted for reported they have not heard from their relatives. It is still possible that some of the number of people unaccounted for may be due to record keeping or communication errors. Proving that point, the number was adjusted downward by one on Thursday when a German woman on the list contacted Costa to tell them she was home and very much accounted for.

The search of the ship above water and below the water are continuing, with divers now opening additional holes in the hull to provide easier access.

Saturday evening, searchers found two people, a man and a woman from South Korea, in a stateroom that was above water, and they have been rescued. Sunday morning, a rescue team located a third person, an injured Italian crew member, and airlifted him to safety. Sunday afternoon, two bodies were found and recovered aboard the ship. Monday morning, an additional body was discovered in the ship, bringing the death toll to six confirmed dead. Search operations underwater in the ship were suspended for a time Monday afternoon due to an approaching storm. There was concern that the rough waters created by the storm could cause the ship to shift several inches. On Tuesday, five more bodies were recovered from the ship, bringing the death toll to eleven.

The search was again suspended on Wednesday when high seas began moving the ship, and there were fears for the safety of the divers. Searches of the ship resumed on Thursday, taking advantage of better weather. As was forecast, Friday the seas turned choppy and the search of the ship was again suspended when instruments indicated the ship was moving slightly. Authorities decided it was too dangerous for anyone to be on the ship. Late on Friday the search of the ship above the water line resumed.

The search resumed on Saturday, now under the command of Italy's civil protection agency. They are employing some new methods. They have put together some of the last known movements of the missing, and are searching based on those, and on Saturday, they did find the body of another woman toward the stern of the ship, bringing the death toll to twelve. It was also revealed that divers are now using remote control cameras to search the area below the waterline.

When searching resumed on Sunday, the body of a woman was found on Deck 7, bringing the confirmed death toll to 13. Monday's search found two more bodies, two women found near the ship's internet cafe, bringing the total confirmed dead to 15.

Italian officials also announced on Monday, that they have decided the ship is stable and not in imminent danger of sliding off the shelf and further under water, so work can begin on Tuesday to being removing the fuel aboard the vessel simultaneously with continued search efforts.

The Italian investigation has already begun. Authorities recovered the ship's "black boxes" on Sunday. Much like an airliner's, they record exactly what the ship was doing and where it was which will prove valuable in determining the cause of the accident.

The local prosecutor has arrested the ship's captain and has filed charges of manslaughter, causing a shipwreck and abandoning ship (before all passengers had left the vessel). The captain made his first appearance in court Tuesday, and has now been granted house arrest at his home near Naples. A transcript of the captain's radio exchange on Friday night with the captain of the local coast guard, has now been released, and it does appear the ship's captain is admitting he is not on the ship, and the coast guard captain is ordering him back on the ship. Reports indicate the prosecutor is now also considering charges against three other officers who were on the ship.

The vessel is now under the control of the prosecutor, and Costa may access it only with his permission. The line has engaged a specialized salvage company to help establish a perimeter around the ship to minimize the environmental impact.

At Monday's press conference, Foschi said there are approximately 2300 tons of fuel of several types still in the ship's tanks, but there is no indication any of it is escaping. He said that once control of the ship is returned to Costa, the first priority will be safely removing that fuel from the ship, and then removal of the ship.

Wednesday afternoon, Costa issued a statement repeating what CND reported over the weekend, that the company had retained Smit Salvage, experts in the field, to plan how to remove the the fuel from Costa Concordia. Costa said today, they anticipate Smit beginning that operation by the end of the week. (It did not begin immediately because it cannot begin until the search of the vessel is completed and it has been returned to them by the prosecutor.) Smit had already been allowed to put into action their plan to contain any spillages.

The five-year-old ship was just beginning a 7-day Mediterranean cruise from Civitavecchia (the port for Rome) that was to call at Savona (near Genoa), Marseille, Barcelona, Palma de Mallorca, Cagliari and Palermo.

Monday morning Carnival Corp issued a statement regarding the financial impact of the incident as required by US law. Carnival has insurance coverage for damage to the vessel with a deductible of $30 million and personal injury liability subject to additional deductible of $10 million. The company self-insures (meaning they carry no insurance) for the loss of use of the vessel.

The company is currently assessing how long the ship will be out of service. In the statement, the company said they expect Costa Concordia to be out of service for the rest of Carnival's fiscal year (which ends November 30), if not longer. For the balance of the fiscal year, that would amount to $85-$95 million. Carnival said they anticipate other costs that are not possible to determine at this time.

On Tuesday afternoon, Micky Arison, the chairman of Carnival Corp, Costa's parent company, made a statement. On Wednesday, Costa issued another statement again expressing their condolences. Later Wednesday, Carnival Corp and Costa jointly issued a statement discussing their commitment to their customers affected by the incident. They can be accessed with the other official statements at the link below.

On Thursday morning Costa issued a statement to advise they are contacting all passengers who were aboard Costa Concordia at the time of the accident to be sure that they are well and have returned home. They are also confirming to them that a refund for the cruise along with all their expenses connected to it is on the way. The line is also contacting all passengers and "all consumer protection associations to determine indemnity for the hardship endured, with the support of the tour operator association of each country." A copy of the statement is available at the link below.

There is being much made in the European press of a woman aboard the ship that reports say the captain was spending time with the evening of the incident. She is being characterized as a stowaway, or someone who was brought aboard without a ticket or being registered as aboard. On Thursday afternoon, Costa issued a statement regarding this verifying that the woman in question did purchase a ticket. A copy of the statement is available at the link below.

At the end of the day Thursday, Carnival Corp announced they are unilaterally moving forward with an initiative to examine all the safety and emergency procedures on each of their brands, despite their "excellent safety record over the years." Carnival chairman Micky Arison said, "This review will evaluate all practices and procedures to make sure that this kind of accident doesn't happen again." The press release is available at the link below.

Monday afternoon, Costa issued a statement in response to many news stories theorizing that there were person aboard not on the ship's manifest. The statement reiterates the line's policy not to do this, and details the policies in place which would limit that possibility. The statement can be accessed though the link below.

Late this week, Costa began to put part of their attention back on the business of selling cruises. The line announced that Costa Concordia would be replaced on the 7-day western Mediterranean route first by NeoRomantica and then later this spring by Costa Magica. The line has been advising travel agents of special offers being made to passengers who were booked for future cruises on Costa Concordia.

Costa is also allowing passengers booked on any of their ships to cancel without penalty if they are concerned about the safety of sailing on the line. To do so, they must advise the line by February 7.

Official statements received from Costa Crociere and Carnival Corp (Costa's parent) can be found here.