Saturday, 5 January 2013

Costa Concordia. Preliminary Hearing in Grosseto Report. Captain Schettino. Salvage Operations. Parbuckling. Disaster Tourism. Theft of ship’s bell and luxury goods.

It is almost a year since the Costa Concordia ran aground and semi-sank on rocks off the little island of Giglio, Italy, on 13 January 2012, with the loss of 32 lives. Captain Schettino has been charged with the shipwreck of the Costa Concordia, multiple manslaughter, and abandoning ship. Eight others,  from the crew and executives from the Costa Crociere Crisis Management Team may also be charged with offences.

On 15 October 2012 the report into the cause of the death of 32 passengers was submitted at the preliminary hearing in Grosseto, the nearest town to Giglio with a court. The hearing however had to be held in the much larger Teatro Moderno, which has 1300 seats for the many witnesses, survivors, their families, around 125 lawyers, and interpreters in Italian, French, Spanish, English and German. Video evidence was shown on three screens in the theatre’s auditorium, audio tapes and data evidence from the ship’s black box were also used. The media was banned from the hearing.

Technical Evidence Report

The Week managed to obtain and study the 270-page Technical Evidence Report and gives five main reasons for the disaster:

“1. The sail-by: The "salute" of Giglio was a favour Captain Francesco Schettino had promised to the ship’s head waiter, who came from the island. The decision was made before the ship set sail from Civitavecchia and a new course was set by the cartographer. At six nautical miles from Giglio, Schettino went to the bridge and ordered manual steering. However, the paper map that Schettino was using was 1:100,000 scale, satisfactory for open seas but not for sailing close to land, where a 1:20,000 scale map is required. The rock the ship hit was not marked on this map.

2. The phone call: At 21:37 Captain Schettino called his former mentor, Captain Palumbo. Palumbo comes from Giglio, but was in Livorno at the time. Schettino asked if there would be enough water beneath the cruise ship if he sailed between 0.3 and 0.4 nautical miles from the coast. Palumbo said yes. There was a cheerful exchange as Schettino promised to "blow the horns and salute everyone". During the call and the time it took afterwards to hand over command from the first officer to the captain, the ship, sailing at more than 15 knots, went past the turn point.

3. The wind: Schettino and his crew did not take into account a 15-knot north-easterly wind blowing toward the island. As he tried to turn the ship, the wind was reducing his manoeuvres by half. That same wind, however, would save hundreds of lives. It was the wind, the report states, not a steering manoeuvre, that turned the Costa Concordia and pushed it back towards land. When the ship rolled, the granite shelf stopped it from going all the way under.

4. The language barrier: As the ship neared the rocks with the auto-pilot turned off, there was a "comprehension gap" between the Italian officers giving English orders and the Indonesian helmsman doing the manual steering, according to the report, with some orders repeated by Schettino multiple times. There was even laughter as Schettino said: "Starboard, otherwise we go on the rocks." Schettino, realising they were too close, continued to give starboard orders, as tension mounted. The bow passed the rocks. Then, to slide the stern around, he ordered two turns to port. Some crew apparently misunderstood, and the ship continued starboard. It took a critical 13 seconds for the ship to correct, according to the document. At 21.45.05 Schettino ordered "hard to port". The ship hit the rocks two seconds later, ripping a 53-metre gash in its side. Their statements also reveal a critical language barrier between a largely immigrant crew and the ship's Italian officers, at times seemingly unable to communicate in a common language.

5. The late evacuation: Two minutes after impact, Schettino knew all six engines were flooded and the ship was without power. At 21:58 Schettino called his managers at the cruise company, Costa Crociere. At this point, it should have been clear to all that the ship was doomed, but no evacuation order was given. At 22:02 the coast guard asked if he needed help, but Schettino said it was an electrical fault and was being worked on. In another coast guard call at 22:13, he asked for a tug. Still no evacuation order was given, but meanwhile water was coming up through the decks via the stairs and shafts and the ship was listing heavily. Schettino ordered a general emergency at 22:33 and the first officer ordered abandon ship at 22:35, but Schettino said "Wait, we need to lower the anchor". Passengers and staff had already taken the situation into their own hands and begun lowering lifeboats when Schettino officially gave the order to abandon ship at 22:48 - an hour after hitting the rocks.”



Salvage Operations.


Meanwhile since May 2012 Titan Salvage and Microperi have been carrying out the largest salvage operation there has ever been, which may cost as much as $400m. The American and Italian companies are using a complicated procedure known as parbuckling The stabilisation and raising of the Costa Concordia includes drilling holes in the seabed for pillars to support a platform in five sections as big as a football pitch, on to which teams using cranes hope to roll and winch the cruise liner upright, prior to refloating her with airtight ballast tanks and removing her for scrap to an Italian port. A Microperi 61 Platform is already in place. The project may not be finished until the autumn of 2013.


More than 450 specialist workers from around the world are working on the project including drillers from Cornwall, Welsh engineers and divers and others from the Shetland and Orkney Islands. The 70 British workers are living on board a support construction vessel from Middlesborough, the Pioneer, with Cornish pasties, black pudding, kippers and other home comforts. Decompression chambers are on board for the divers.


Theft on the Costa Concordia


Police in Giglio have had to investigate the theft of the ship’s bell and luxury items from the Costa Concordia’s shop in October 2012 after thieves reportedly climbed on board the Costa Concordia.


Disaster Tourism


Throughout the year tourists have been flocking to Giglio to photograph the stricken ship, which was to be expected, but most villagers are fed up. The tourist trade is selling T-shirts with photographs of the sunken ship and other memorabilia. 

Captain Francesco Schettino

On October 13, 2012  the defiant captain announced he is suing for wrongful dismissal from his job, reinstatement, lost wages and damages after having been sacked in July by Costa Crociere during an internal disciplinary procedure.

There is as yet no date for the trial which will be this year.