Ever since the sinking of the Costa Concordia, the cruise line and its American owners, Carnival, have been anxious to promote the theory that the accident was down to the behaviour of a rogue Captain. It is certainly true that the actions of the Captain after the accident did nothing to help his cause but I have always been unwilling to accept such a neat swerving of blame. This PR-led led attack on the Captain does not really hold water anyway because if Captain Schettino was as incompetent as claimed (which is possible), Costa must still take responsibility for employing him.
Investigations into such major accidents take a long time to complete and it is inevitable that bits of evidence will surface or be leaked during the process which will be used by one side or the other to bolster their positions. Last week some evidence was produced in the Italian press which suggests that the organisation of Costa was far from perfect. It is claimed that several ship’s officers did not speak Italian properly and even the Captain complained about the difficulty of communicating with fellow officers on the bridge. There are also claims that many officers and crew either did not have the correct safety certificates, or that they had expired. The evacuation of the vessel certainly appeared chaotic (though, in fairness, any evacuation is going to be difficult so the passengers that survive are almost certain to be upset). The claims that the company did not know how to handle the situation are more worrying though and it is suggested that the Captain was anxious for help from his head office which was not forthcoming.
Costa say these comments are all “without foundation”. That is quite possible. Selective leaking of just the bad bits of evidence can produce a very unfair picture which should be corrected in the final report.
However, it is certainly not the first time that “chaos” has been used in reports about Costa Cruises. Neither is it a surprise to read that crew members were not properly trained. Just read through some of the many on-line passenger reviews of cruises on Costa vessels before the Concordia accident and you will pick up a recurring theme. Boarding is often referred to as a chaotic mess and meal service in the restaurants seems to be a serious problem with plenty of reports about restaurant managers “losing control” and waiters not knowing what they were doing. Of course, it is perfectly possible that a company that seems to have problems embarking passengers or serving meals has its crews trained to perfection in emergency drills but the balance of probability suggests Costa have some very serious questions to answer.
It seems unlikely that Captain Schettino will escape blame for the accident but we have to hope that proper attention is paid to the management of Costa and their owners, Carnival. The publicity and punishment must be distributed fairly.