CRUISE SAFETY: Did the EU ignore expert warnings?

A disturbing text by Christopher Booker, columnist of The Telegraph (read the whole column at http://www.telegraph.co.uk/comment/columnists/christopherbooker/9030330/The-EU-ignored-years-of-expert-warnings-on-cruise-ship-safety.html). The brackets, bolds and italics are mine:

When the headlines were filled last weekend with the sinking of the Costa Concordia, I checked the entry for the doomed cruise liner on Wikipedia and was intrigued to see that the ship was named in honour of “continuing harmony, unity, and peace between European nations” (as confirmed by the “ring of stars” shown prominently on its prow). What an apt metaphor, I mused, for the fate of that other monument to European harmony, the euro, which seems similarly to be half-sunk on a rocky ledge from which at any moment it may slide off to the bottom.

But there then came to light a much more disturbing link between the ill-fated liner and the EU. Regulating for the safety of ships is a “competence” long since handed over to Brussels. It emerges (through the researches of my colleague Richard North on his EU Referendum blog) that a whole series of studies, funded by the EU, has been carried out since 2004 by an international team of experts, led by Professor Dracos Vassalos of the Universities of Glasgow and Strathclyde, warning of precisely the disaster that followed the holing of the Costa Concordia.

The problem repeatedly addressed by Professor Vassalos and his team is what happens to cruise liners when they are holed below the waterline. Because of the network of bulkheads now customary in such “mega ships”, even small amounts of water which break in may be forced to the ship’s opposite side, causing it quickly to capsize.

“As the hull is breached,” one of their papers says [on item 4.2 (a)] , “water may rush through various compartments, substantially reducing stability even when the floodwater amount is small. As a result the ship could heel to large angles – letting water into the upper decks that spreads rapidly through these spaces and may lead to rapid capsize.” Hence what happened to the Costa Concordia, which was holed on the port side but after grounding, which forced water across the ship, then listed dramatically to starboard.

Prof Vassalos and his colleagues have been warning of this with increasing urgency for eight years. As they put it in [the summary of] a paper published in 2007 by the Royal Institution of Naval Architects, “the regulatory system is stretched to breaking point”. But even though their researches were part-funded by the EU, it took no notice of their findings. In 2009, for instance, it issued a new directive adding little to one from 1998 before this fatal design flaw had come to light.

One reason, it seems, for the EU’s extraordinary failure on this issue is that regulation for ship safety is handled at a global level by the International Maritime Organisation, which moves at an even more glacial pace. Brussels is reluctant to take unilateral action because, it has been told by European shipping interests, this could lead to the industry escaping from the EU to countries not under its jurisdiction.

So when David Cameron last week assured MPs that “if changes need to be made we will make them”, he forgot to inform them that the UK has no power any longer to regulate for ship safety, because we have surrendered it to the European Commission. On Friday, it assured us that it would be “taking fully into account any lessons to be learned from the Costa Concordia tragedy”.

Since the Commission has already managed to ignore all the lessons it might have learned from the research it has been funding since 2004, prospective cruise passengers should perhaps proceed with caution.

It would seem that the Costa Concordia disaster was, after all, the result of an long, persistent accumulation of small and not-so-small errors, mixed together by indifference, greed and pride.

1 Comment

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One response to “CRUISE SAFETY: Did the EU ignore expert warnings?

  1. Reblogged this on Rocha, Alexandre: anotaçõese comentado:

    O que vai a seguir é um post do blog Safe Seas, voltado para assuntos de interesse da indústria marítima. Apesar de estar em inglês, entendo que sua reprodução aqui pode ajudar mais pessoas a tomar consciência da necessidade de examinar mais de perto a segurança dos navios de passageiros que trafegam em águas brasileiras, se levamos a sério a proteção da vida humana no mar.
    Ao texto:

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