As a former merchant navy cadet who went through the same basic training as Nick Sloane, I’d like to add my voice to those who’ve congratulated him on his successful salvage of the cruise ship Costa Concordia.
It’s a massive achievement for Nick and his team – and a rare and welcome good-news story for South Africa. And what a thing to have on your CV… yes, I was in charge of the biggest salvage operation in history!
Nearly everyone reading this column will have seen the dramatic pictures of the Costa Concordia lying on its side just a hundred metres off the Italian island of Giglio. And some may have drawn comparisons with that most famous shipwreck of all time, the Titanic, which sank almost exactly 100 years before the Costa Concordia..
The question I’d like to ask is: are today’s passenger ships safer than those of the Titanic’s era? In most respects the answer obviously has to be “yes!” Technology has come a long way in a hundred years. Ships very rarely hit each other – or icebergs for that matter – these days, thanks to advanced GPS and radar systems. There are also more than enough lifeboats for everyone on board – even though there will always be a problem launching some of those boats if the ship lists suddenly to one side, as did the Costa Concordia.
Here’s another comparison with the Titanic. The former hit an iceberg and was holed below the waterline. It didn’t list to one side though. It sank gradually by the bow. If there had been enough lifeboats and they’d all been filled to capacity, it’s entirely likely that most of those aboard would have got off safely.
The Costa Concordia hit a rock and was also holed below the waterline. Yet, unlike the Titanic, it rolled over onto its side. If it hadn’t been so close inshore, it would have sunk completely and instead of almost everyone aboard getting ashore safely, it’s entirely likely that hundreds, perhaps thousands, would have died.
If it was possible to put the Costa Concordia and the Titanic side by side, you wouldn’t notice much difference in length. The Costa Concordia is just 20 metres longer than the Titanic, yet its gross tonnage of 114 000 is more than double the Titanic’s 46 000.
Most of those extra tons have gone into five extra decks on the Costa Concordia, 13 to the Titanic’s 8, which make the newer ship look much taller than the Titanic and allowed it to have 4 200 people aboard at the time of its stranding compared with half that number aboard the Titanic.
You can’t help but wonder whether all that extra height was the cause of the Costa Concordia capsizing so suddenly. Put it like this….you won’t catch me on one of those floating blocks of flats!
Finally, a little pop quiz. What do the following ship disasters have in common? The Torrey Canyon and the Amoco Cadiz, which caused the world’s worst oil spills to date, the liner Andrea Doria, which collided with another ship, the Stockholm, and sank – and the Costa Concordia?
Answer: they all had Italian captains…….fact!
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