Concordia LifeboatsThrough the auspices of Sea Breezes I wonder whether I may make a couple of public observations which might well be regarded as contributing in no small way to the demise of Cost Concordia, with a view to inviting comment from some of the professional seafarers with long term hands on experience which are undoubtedly amongst the readership.

Setting aside the navigational and ship-handling errors, which clearly will be addressed in detail by an enquiry, I would like to raise two fundamental developments in modern cruise ship design which have troubled me for many years, and which seem to have been highlighted yet again by this particular event. The arrangement of internal transverse and longitudinal watertight bulkheads used to be defined by rigorous subdivision regulations and calculations, such that a vessel would not sink unless, as with RMS Titanic, several compartments were breached.

Additionally the potential for free surface water on board causing a serious irreversible list was minimised by longitudinal subdivision under watertight decks. I believe passenger vessels had more stringent requirements than cargo vessels. The commercial pressures on the development of Ro-Ro vessels and ferries with vast unbroken cargo spaces equipped with bow and stern doors (my professor of Naval Architecture used to say to us “Gentlemen, you should not design ships with holes in the front!”) have been responsible for their fair share of tragedies and huge loss of life in recent years.

No doubt, this will continue, but cruise ship design over the last 15 years to my mind has evolved the same way but more so, with a greater potential for loss of life; creating vast internal atriums and public rooms in an attempt to make ships more passenger indulgent, with shopping malls, golf courses with tall palm trees, climbing walls, bungee jumping, and numerous high level swimming pools each with their own free surface, in order to satisfy unrealistic passenger expectations and generate additional revenue streams on board, but in doing so severely compromising passenger safety in the event of an emergency.

Looking at photographs of pre 1980 passenger and cruise liners, by and large, lifeboats were located on what became known as the ‘Boat Deck’ for obvious reasons, which was usually the uppermost continuous deck as high as possible above the water line. Whilst this arrangement with long falls admittedly caused problems when lowering boats in a seaway, if the vessel was settling in the water and listing, then the elevated height of the davits allowed the boats to be available for use much longer than they would have been had they been placed in their davits lower down closer to the waterline. Look now at the location of lifeboats on modern cruise vessels, (and Costa Concordia and her sister ships are a prime example); and in order to create rows of high revenue earning state rooms on all decks with uninterrupted views from their balconies, almost as an after-thought, life boats are located on the lowest or second lowest continuous exposed deck.

Thus in the event of settling in the water and a list developing, these boats quickly become inaccessible to passengers and inoperable by crew, becoming partially or wholly submerged very quickly. The natural reaction to the order “Abandon Ship” is to strive to reach an elevated position on an exposed deck as far as possible above the water, not to make your way down through confined decks to a boat station so low as to be the first deck to be underwater. This downward confined passage to supposed safety is more than sufficient to cause panic amongst passengers and crew alike rather than generate calm.

In the case of Costa Concordia I seem to remember harrowing scenes of hundreds of passengers within the confined spaces surrounding the low level boat stations struggling to board boats which were still in the stowed position but inoperable because of them already being partially submerged.

To my mind a fundamental re-think by both owners, builders, and the regulatory authorities is appropriate and long overdue, both for existing vessels designed along similar over-indulgent and potentially safety compromising lines, and of course new tonnage.

2 Westoe Hall
Westoe Village, South Shields
Tyne & Wear, NE33 3EG
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