Captain Terry Hughes, a Vessel Traffic Services (VTS) and Management (VTM) expert, comments on the Costa Concordia tragedy and how little has been heard of the other officers onboard the stricken cruise liner.
Nearly a hundred years ago the Titanic suffered a fatal accident in the North Atlantic Ocean. However, from this accident the Safety Of Life At Sea (SOLAS) Convention was born.
Very little has been heard of the other Officers on the Costa Concordia, including the Engineers who work on the vast engines in the bowels of the vessel. Every ship has a chain of command. On the Bridge, the Master is head of a team whose job it is to support him and challenge if necessary. The challenge should arise if a decision is made to alter the navigation plan, for example, which is not agreeable to the whole team.
The Costa Concordia would have had to comply with specific standards of safety as specified by the International Safety Management (ISM) Code. The Master, Officers and Crew would have been trained according to the Standards of Training, Certification and Watchkeeping for Seafarers (STCW Convention). The safety and navigational equipment on the Bridge would have complied with the regulations laid down by the SOLAS Convention. In fact there are a mass of rules and regulations covering every aspect of safety from stability to lifejackets that a vessel such as this would have had to comply with.
From the above it can be seen that this, like other cruise vessels, was a very safe vessel. All vessels require human input to operate the equipment otherwise they would not function. However, modern technology has made operating vessels and their equipment easier, traditional skills relied on personal knowledge, experience and sound judgement.
Does this mean that the proliferation of electronic equipment aboard today’s super liners is creating a loss of traditional skills and an over reliance on magic black boxes? No amount of training ashore or afloat can account for the way a human mind works or reacts, the human element. There are many distractions on vessels, particularly cruise liners which in themselves can lead to a chain or errors.
The vessel was required by maritime law to carry a Voyage Data Recorder (VDR) or black box as it is sometimes known. The VDR records all radio and vocal audio on the Bridge as well as receive data from navigational equipment, echo sounder and other sensors. Had the vessel sunk in very deep water the VDR may never have been found. Should it be positioned such that a flotation device could bring it to the surface?
The VDR is now in the hands of the authorities so trust must be placed in those authorities and the ones carrying out the investigation to find the true cause of this accident so that we can all learn from it. Eye catching headlines, leaked audio tapes, finger pointing, accusations, conjecture, argument and counter argument do not solve anything.
Thanks should go to the Italian Coast Guard and the various rescue authorities who are doing a magnificent job under difficult circumstances.