Does a ship captain have a legal obligation to go down with the ship? Well not quite reports the Atlanta Journal Constitution. Ship captains are required to assist in getting passengers safely off the vessel but no one actually requires a captain to go down with the ship. However ship captains usually face an inquiry as to what happened and can face criminal charges if they are found negligent. The captain of the Costa Concordia is on trial for manslaughter while the captain of the South Korean ferry faces negligence charges. Neither were the last to get off their sinking vessels.
Titanic was the largest ship afloat in 1912 but according to Paul Stott, senior lecturer at Newcastle University’s School of Marine Science and Technology, it quite small compared to ships like Costa Concordia (which sank off Italy two years ago). Some reports, for instance, say Costa Concordia is two times larger than Titanic. Stott says Titanic today would be equivalent to a mid-size ferry. His problem with trying to compare Titanic and Costa Concordia is that it is hard to have a sense of scale. Stott says a more meaningful way of understanding the size differences is to use famous buildings.
“Stating that the salvors are using brute force to move an object the size of a sky scraper, which many have seen and can therefore relate to directly, really gets across the message of how heroic the salvage operation is.”
Years ago while on tour of a naval vessel a question was asked about whether it was rougher at sea or when docked in port. The officer cocked his head slightly and responded it was worse in port. He explained tides going in and out shift the ship and cause it to move unpredictably at times. Having been aboard craft when tides change, I learned exactly what he meant. And something like that happened to the Carnival Triumph.
While moored and undergoing repairs in Mobile, Alabama, it became adrift when near hurricane force winds and stormy waters snapped its moorings. Off it went downriver until it a cargo ship where it incurred more damage. This was the same ship that weeks ago was stranded to a major power failure requiring it be towed back. The horror stories were pretty ghastly and Carnival has refunded their money back plus some free trips in the future.
There were 600 crew members and 200 contractors aboard when it went adrift but they are okay. A guard shack was toppled into the water with two men inside. One has been rescued and the other has not been found and now presumed dead. Now the work order will be altered with fixing a 20-foot gash in the stern with two levels of broken rail. Also the power lines connected to Triumph were broken with possible damage to that system. So it means more work for the repair team.
Now some out there, either jokingly or somewhat seriously, speak of a Carnival curse. The cruise line has certainly had its share of problems from illnesses, ship handling problems, and one very serious incident where the captain got to close to rocks causing the ship to founder resulting in passenger deaths (Costa Concordia). Some of these, like with the Costa Concordia, are rare. Most ship captains are a pretty serious lot who prefer to not to take great risks that will endanger the ship or passengers. However it is a fact that things are going to go wrong. Someone comes on with an virus that has not yet done anything more than a sniffle but later spreads like an epidemic in the close quarters of a ship. Or it could be bacteria that gets into the air filtration system spreading an airborne virus. Unexpected high seas might tumble a ship around causing damage to property and people. A fire in the engineering area, perhaps electrical, knocks out the power for the entire ship. All of those things have happened to cruise ships.
There are a lot cruise ships out there, actually thousands that traverse the oceans, seas, and rivers of our planet. And most of the time, nothing eventful happens except the usual gripes and complaints that arise when you have lots of people aboard a ship. Yet when something does, we act like this is something that never happens. As if they can never happen. This is something out of whack. Complaints arise from politicians (of course), that something must be done as if this has not happened before. Even with the most sophisticated safety and shipbuilding techniques, a ship is hostage to nature and when things go bad like when an engine is knocked out of commission. It is not like the old days where you could hoist a sail and hope for the wind. You cannot do that with most cruise ships and it probably would do little good owing to its massive size.
Curses are convenient in that they answer why things happen badly. The legendary big daddy of all, the one about King Tut, is that many involved in its finding died. Yet that is not true. Some notable deaths did occur but nothing to suggest a curse was reaching out and killing everyone responsible. Howard Carter lived a long life as did others. And the curse was invented by the press and encouraged, it is believed, by Carter to keep people away. Yet people want to believe in it and connect all kinds of bad things when the mummy was on tour around the United States. Titanic has its mummy curse as well but that is also fiction. No mummy was aboard Titanic. Some people argued any president of the U.S. who was elected in a year ending in a zero, would die in office by assassination. Yet while some presidents were killed (Lincoln, McKinley, Kennedy), Reagan was not ending that notion.
What happened to Carnival is nothing mystical or supernatural. It all has a rational explanation. Each incident has it own explanation but when we string them all together some want to believe a hand is at work. What kind of hand? Fate or supernatural or just plain bad timing, I take the bad timing.
The catastrophe of an Italian cruise liner,the Costa Concordia, has resurrected all kinds of connections to Titanic. Despite some eerie parallels in survivor accounts, theyare not the same. I will spare readers any cliches to Titanic as this ought to be judged strictly on its own terms. The captain, if press accounts are to be believed, made a serious lack of judgment by failing to use proper seamanship. And he may have abandoned ship without good cause. Transcripts of exchanges between the Italian Coast Guard and the captain telling him to return to his ship are damning.
It is almost predictable that politicians want to jump into the fray. In 1912 there were serious and compelling reasons to do so. Both inquiries, American and British, uncovered a lot of important details that resulted in major changes. Lifeboats for all, 24 hour communication watches, better attention to iceberg threats (International Ice Patrol), changes in shipbuilding etc. Technology has vastly improved since then. Radar, satellites, more accurate charts, better ship handling technologies. Even with the most sophisticated of technology implemented on modern day ships, catastrophes can still happen.
Mighty Poseidon wields a powerful trident and waves can knock the best designed ship around. Cruise ships and passengers caught in a terrible storm that thrashes them about have to trust the captain and his crew to get them safely through the night. Nearly every cruise ship today is designed with safety of passengers in mind. And few run into serious problems. Most western nations have strict regulations and the United States is considered the toughest (and the reason so many cruise lines register their ships elsewhere). And most ships are regularly inspected for safety compliance. The ship officers and bridge crew have to be competent and experienced. Regular drills to deal with emergencies are common.
Nothing though compares to the real thing. In An Officer and Gentleman one of the aviation candidates asks if the water simulation (where you simulate falling into the ocean after bailing out) is like the real thing. The petty officer says it is not at all like the real thing. And that is why you drill often, so that when the moment comes you avoid panic and think through the situation. There are conflicting accounts whether the crew responded well to the catastrophe. The fact that so many passengers were secured says something went right. Otherwise we could be talking about large numbers dead instead of the low number thus far.
The inevitable investigations will reveal more fully how the catastrophe happened. Right now it appears the captain and first officer made serious mistakes but one must resist coming to conclusions until all the facts are in. Press reports, especially initial ones, can be very unreliable. There will no doubt be problems found, they nearly always are. Jumping in and demanding hearings on cruise line safety is nothing more public grand standing by politicians desperate to show they are concerned. This is not 1912 and what happened was likely poor seamanship rather than a major flaw in either safety regulations or ship building design.
Some very interesting images and more details can be found at Universe Today.
Commentary on Titanic news and other related items.