Costa Concordia: Expert Says Tragedy A ‘Wake Up’ Call As Letters Suggest Ship Sailed Close To Island Before
Experience from the Marchioness, Zeebrugge and Al Dana disasters must be learned from. BY CLIVE GARNER
The Cruise law experts say the Costa Concordia tragedy is a
wake-up call for the industry which must be heeded and have urged
regulators to tighten controls on cruise lines to improve safety.
The call from experts at law firm Irwin Mitchell came as news emerged of correspondence from the Mayor of the Italian island where the cruise liner crashed into rocks, thanking one of the Concordia’s Captains for passing close by the island.
As inquiries continue into the weekend’s tragedy, which left 11 people dead and 23 still unaccounted for (as of 18th Jan) , one fundamental question is why the ship sailed so close to the shore of Giglio, the letters dated August 2011 and published in the Italian newspaper La Stampa reveal that islanders had been treated to a ‘wonderful occasion’ and that the Captain of the Concordia at that time – Captain Massimo Calisto Garbarino: not Francesco Schettino who was in command when the liner crashed – hoped the sail past would become an ‘unmissable tradition’. A tradition that it appears Captain Schettino continued with disasterous consequences.
This news has been greeted with disbelief by expert lawyers at Irwin Mitchell, who said the correspondence casts grave doubts on whether the safety of passengers was adequately considered by the cruise line and its crew.
Clive Garner, Partner and Head of the firm’s International Law Team, said: ‘The investigation will rightly focus on why a cruise liner of this size, one of the largest on the seas, was so close to shore and, while we must wait for the results of that investigation, it is a matter of significant concern that the letters seem to indicate that the Concordia may have taken the same or a very similar route on prior occasions. We all now know the tragic consequences of Friday’s decision.”
‘With thousands of passengers and crew on board this huge vessel, their safety should have been the first and only priority. Tragically, it seems that this was not the case and passengers and their families have paid a very heavy price.’
He added: ‘This has to be a wake-up call to the cruise industry as a whole. Sailing close to the island may have been spectacular for those on shore but it clearly put lives in danger. Regulations including those of the IMO (International Maritime Organisation) need to be tightened and monitoring of compliance and good practice needs to be urgently improved. We welcome the recent comments made by Koji Sekimuzu, secretary General of the IMO.
Sekimuzu is reported to have said, “We should seriously consider the lessons to be learnt and, if necessary, re-examine the regulations on the safety of large passenger ships.” But we would go further and call for the regulations and monitoring to be improved. Every week we are asked to help passengers who have been injured on cruise liners due to the negligence of cruise line operators and more needs to be done to protect the public.”
Garner and his firm acted for the victims and families of those killed in the Herald of Free Enterprise (Zeebrugge) disaster which left 193 passengers and crew dead, the Marchioness disaster which caused the death of more than 50 passengers and the 2006 capsize of the Al Dana Dhow off the coast of Bahrain which left nearly 60 passengers and crew dead.”
All of these disasters could and should have been avoided. As well as financial settlements for the victims, the investigations into each of these tragedies lead to calls for better regulation and important safety improvements for the design and management of vessels have been made as a result. But rather than reacting after an accident has occurred we want the regulators including the IMO to be more proactive in improving safety to avoid deaths and serious injuries rather than merely learning lessons after disasters like these have occurred. “
‘The fact is that the regulations are struggling to keep up with the dramatic increase in size of ships which now carry more people than a small town every week and there has to be an urgent review to reassure all cruise passengers for the future that cruise travel can and will remain a safe way to holiday.”
Garner continued: “There is a long list of unanswered questions about the causes of the Costa Concordia disaster. The selection of the ship’s route and the actions taken by the Captain and crew once the ship was in a position of danger are clearly at the top of the list, But a modern cruise liner of this size should have been fitted with radar, sonar and state-of-the-art navigation systems with the most up-to-date charts and yet it managed to run into rocks and capsize. The possibility of equipment failure and possible legal liability on the part of the equipments manufacturers cannot be ruled out.
And he said the recent incident in February 2010 in which the Concordia's sister ship, the Costa Europa, collided with the quayside in Sharm El Sheikh killing three members of crew and injuring several passengers also raised questions. Both ships are part of the Costa Cruiseline which is part of the giant Carnival Corporation.
Garner added, “Further questions will also need to be asked about the Cruise line's recent safety record, including the adequacy of its safety procedures and its training of crew to deal with onboard emergencies."
The role of the Costa Concordia’s Classification Society, RINA SpA which had an important role in the oversight of safety issues on board the Costa Concordia may also come under scrutiny. Rina SpA is based in Genoa and Garner and his team are working with Italian colleagues in the Costa Concordia case who are also pursuing legal proceedings against Rina SpA in the Italian courts following the tragedy of the Al Salam Boccaccio ferry which sunk off the coast of Egypt on 3 February 2006 with the loss of more than 1000 passengers.
Travel Law Experts Instructed by Costa Concordia Passengers:
Briton Reveals Her Family’s Ordeal On Board The Stricken Ship
A female passenger who survived the horrific Costa Concordia cruise disaster has
spoken of her terror as she became separated from her loved ones, watched
priceless family heirlooms go down with the ship and lost her husband’s ashes as
she struggled to make it onto a lifeboat.
Returning to her home in Menorca, expat Sandra Rodgers, 62, is one of several passengers who have instructed travel law experts at Irwin Mitchell after becoming caught up in the tragic events on board the cruise ship last weekend.
The latest reports from the Italian media suggest that Francesco Schettino, the captain of the cruise ship, has admitted making a navigation error. He has reportedly told investigators that he had "ordered the turn too late" as the luxury ship sailed close to the island of Giglio.
Sandra Rodgers, who was originally from Caergwrle in Chester, was sailing with her daughter Karen, 39, and seven-year-old twin granddaughters Emma and Chloe.
Recounting the harrowing scenes, she said: ”The evacuation of the ship was completely chaotic. There was certainly no ’women and children first’ policy. It was disgusting. I lost my daughter and my grandchildren in the chaos whilst we were being told by the crew that there was a simply a technical problem. We were also told by crew that we should go back to our cabin. Thank God we didn’t do as they had told us as we may not have made it off the ship alive.
“I was standing by the lifeboats and men were banging into me and knocking the girls. And when we finally got into a lifeboat, other passengers and crew were also trying to jump into the boat. I thought ‘if they land in here we are going to capsize’.
“There was no one telling us where to go and it was only when we got on to the island that we got some help – from the islanders. There were no emergency services and the cruise staff had all disappeared. The people of the island were a God-send.
“We lost both my husband, Barry, and my father last year. We had decided to take the cruise to lift our spirits after a very sad year and what we thought would be a difficult Christmas for us all. We had planned to scatter Barry’s ashes when the cruise passed Monaco, because Barry had always wanted to see the Monaco Grand Prix. It’s dreadful but his ashes were lost onboard the Concordia as well as other family heirlooms from my late mother and father.
”We have lost so many things that are quite literally priceless. The girls are also now too afraid to be left alone. We have all been deeply affected by what has happened and I also injured my arm during the evacuation of the ship and have had to have medical treatment in Menorca.
Clive Garner, Partner and head of Irwin Mitchell’s International Law Team, who represents Mrs Rodgers, her family and an increasing number of other passengers from the ill fated ship, said: “We are continuing to receive enquiries from a growing number of passengers from both the UK and abroad in relation to the Costa Concordia tragedy and are shocked to hear the personal accounts of many of our clients. including the terrible ordeal of Mrs Rodgers and her family.
“They have clearly been through a terrifying and most traumatic experience and one which may have long lasting effects for them.
“With thousands of people on board this huge vessel, the safety of passengers should have been the first and only priority. Tragically, our clients confirm that this was not the case and passengers and their families have paid a very heavy price.
“The running aground of the Costa Concordia was terrible enough but this was compounded by the woeful management of the evacuation of the vessel.
“As well as the official investigation we are working with colleagues in Italy and maritime safety experts to understand exactly how the Costa Concordia came to run aground. On the evidence currently available there appear to have been a number of serious errors of judgment on the part of the Captain, while faults with the sonar and navigation equipment also cannot be ruled out at this stage.
“Following formal notification of our clients’ claims to the cruise line we hope to engage them in early discussions but if this proves unsuccessful, legal proceedings will follow.”
The firm voiced further concerns about reports of letters published in the Italian newspaper La Stampa in August 2011 which praised the Captain of the ship for a previous sail past which went very close to the shore of the island.
About the Author
Clive Garner, is head of international travel litigation at Irwin Mitchell.
Photo credit: Cost Concordia photo by Roberto Vongher.