I'd be very surprised if I found out that the radars where on stby, but where parallel index lines set up? These are a very basic and proven method for avoiding the shore.
Here is an article I wrote about lessons we can learn as boaters from this (and other) marine
casualties. I ended up not publishing it on my own blog because our audience is big ship mariners but, as both a ship captain and avid cruiser, I hope it finds some value here:
Maritime Disasters - 5 Lessons Learned For Boaters
1) Sea Room - If you ever learn how to fly a plane one of the first lessons is how to manage an emergency
. From engine
stalls to instrument failure the instructor will tell you that lots can go wrong on a plane but, by gliding to a clearing, you can survive if you remain calm. Then he’ll add a caveat: if you have enough altitude to recover.
For aviators and professional mariners the lesson is clear, leave plenty of room between you and the hard earth but boaters, who tend to think of land as a security
blanket, rarely take this advice. Here in Morro Bay I’ve seen countless times small boats rounding Point Conception (called locally California’s Cape Horn) just a few miles from the rocky shorline.
The Costa Concordia ran aground for one simple reason... his proximity to shore turned a regular mistake (missing a waypoint) into a disaster.
When I round Point Conception it’s often at a distance of 30-60 miles which gives me plenty of drift room if something goes wrong but keeps me inside the range of helicopter support.
What is the most critical factor in an emergency
at sea? It’s time!
As boaters and men
we rarely want to admit to defeat. when things go wrong we tend to think that we can pull through and regain control of the situation. And usually we are right! But it takes time for the Coast Guard to launch a helicopter, more time for them to actually find you, and even more time if you aren’t the only boater in distress
One problem is that today’s EPIRBS make it too easy to call a mayday. Boaters think of it as a magic button which, once pressed, immediately dispatches the calvary. A major failing of the Costa Concordia’s captain was not calling MAYDAY soon enough AND not informing the Coast Guard of the severity of the problem.
is great at telling authorities that you are in trouble and, if it’s equipped with a GPS
, you location. But that’s it! Without additional information like the number of people aboard and the nature of the distress
the Coast Guard’s response may be too little, too late.
3) Nuisance Alarms
Electronic chart systems are great tools to help keep you from danger but they aren’t foolproof. One major problem is that nuscense alarms (e.g. lost wind
data) typically sound the same as major alarms (e.g. depth
approaching draft!) and can too easily be ignored.
We don’t know why the Costa Concordia sailed past her turning waypoint, we don’t even know where that waypoint was set, but we do know that the turn was missed. It’s too easy to get distracted on the bridge of a ship or behind the wheel
of your boat so don’t allow nuscience alarms to put you in danger. If you need to leave the helm
then take a remote
display unit (like Raymarine’s E15023 Smart Control Wireless Remote) with you and, by all means, fix problems (like that faulty cable to the wind
sensor) before your mind starts to ignore them.
4) Bridge Team
In both marine
and air transportation the major finding of incident studies over the past few decades have pointed to one major problem.... the number of inputs exceed our capacity to understand the situation.
Put simply today’s modern system of electronics
is great at providing a myriad of information but our brains are poor at absorbing it all. The solution is to divide tasks. Every time you depart for sea it’s important to have someone check your work (course lines, waypoints, etc) and look for problems your brain might ignore. But even more important is, when you run into problems, to have someone help manage the influx of information. This can be as simple as handing someone a handheld VHF
and asking them to listen for your boat’s name, or asking someone to keep an eye on the depth sounder
The point is, during an emergency, have someone check your work and help you reduce the amount of information flowing into your brain.
5) Don’t loose the big picture.
It’s easy to get lost
in electronic displays when an emergency is happening. Electronic displays, AIS
, EPIRB’s, DSC
VHF’s are all important safety
items that can save your life but so is your throttle, anchor
and manual bailer. Had the Costa Concordia captain backed down on the propellers after missing the turn, had he anchored his vessel after running aground (or even used the anchor
to slow his ship down), then less lives would have been lost.
Many believe the captain made the right choice in grounding his damaged vessel after it started taking on water but this was the wrong move.
It’s correct that beaching is standard operating procedure for a sinking vessel and is done safely everyday at Alang and other shipbreakers (Ship Beaching - YouTube
). And it serves two major advantages... it brings the vessel closer to shore (which helps in evacuating the passengers) and stabilizes the ship (i.e. keeps it from sinking further).
Part of the reason this works is because the forward momentum "cuts" a deep V into the sand which conforms to the hull... supporting her evenly. The problem here is not that he grounded the ship, but that he grounded it sideways!
ships ships have a high center of gravity so imagine you're on a sailboat running parallel to shore with wind and current
directly on your beam. Now imagine pulling down the sails
and hoisting a weight to the top of a sailboat mast
. As the wind/current pushed you sideways into the beach she'd certainly list but would remain relatively stable until the keel
caught bottom.... at which point she'd topple right over. If he had propulsion
then he could have successfully have beached the ship like they do in Alang but with only bow and stern thrusters (if they even worked)... it was a deadly move.
Why did he do this? The answer is not know but evidence suggests that he called the company’s emergency response center after hitting the rock and their suggestion was to ground the vessel. The lesson is that, in today’s age of satellite
phones, it’s easy to get advice from experts ashore. But those experts are not aboard your vessel, they don’t have access to the flood of information you do as a captain.
The captain was criticized for managing the emergency, via the use of sat phones and handheld VHF’s, from the comfort of a lifeboat. And rightly so! The lesson here is that new communication tools are effective tools in emergencies at sea but do not replace the experience of a captain calling the shots from the bridge of his ship... or wheelhouse of his yacht!