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Home > Cruise News Archive > Costa Concordia Q&A: What You Need to Know About the Cruise Ship Disaster
Date Published: January 27, 2012
Costa Cruises Profile and Reviews
Latest Cruise News Headlines
Costa Concordia Q&A: What You Need to Know About the Cruise Ship Disaster
Update: Latest News on Concordia Disaster
The Mystery of the Muster: Cruise Safety Laws Explained
Lido Deck -- After Concordia: Is Cruising Safe?
Videos of Disaster From Around the Web
Cruise Critic Member Shares Harrowing Tale
Costa Announces Compensation Plans
In Their Words: Survivors of Disaster Describe the Scene
On the Boards: Cruise Critic Readers Discuss the Tragedy
Travel Insurance: What You Need to Know

(Updated 9:50 a.m. EST) -- On Friday evening, January 13, Costa Concordia ran into rocks off the coast of the Italian Island of Giglio, began taking on water and eventually capsized early the next morning. The accident has been called one of the worst cruise ship disasters in modern times.

The following are answers to the most-asked questions about the incident. For the the latest details, see our frequently updated main story.

Can you provide a timeline of events?
Concordia departed Civitavecchia, the cruise port for Rome, on Friday afternoon (January 13) en route to Savona, Italy, where it was scheduled to arrive on the morning of Saturday, January 14. A few hours and 40 miles later, the ship struck a rock formation about 450 feet from the coast of Giglio. It began taking on water about 8 p.m. local time Friday. The rocks left a 165-foot gash on the port side of Concordia's hull; after the impact, the ship listed at 20 degrees before partially sinking Saturday morning.

Who was onboard at the time of the accident?
3,206 passengers and roughly 1,000 crewmembers were onboard when the accident occurred. Costa said the manifest consisted of about 1,000 Italians, more than 500 Germans, about 460 French, 177 Spanish, 126 Americans, 25 Brits and 21 Australians. Some 20 other nationalities were also represented, including Russians, Croatians and Brazilians.

What's the human toll of the disaster?
32 people are presumed dead (30 bodies have been found, two are still unaccounted for) and at least 60 were injured as a result of the grounding.

How did the evacuation unfold?
The evacuation itself has been described by many as a frenzied and chaotic affair, with glass flying through the air and a rush for lifeboats. Numerous passengers and crew jumped into the cold water and swam to shore to escape the listing vessel. The air temperature was about 45 degrees F. Read survivors' accounts here. Still, given the circumstances, Costa's top executive thought the crew met expectations. "Our own judgment is that the crew performed very well," said Costa Cruises Chief Executive Officer Foschi during a Monday press conference. "We were able to evacuate, in two hours time, 4,200 people under very severe circumstances, with the ship listing to a degree that did not enable us to use both sides."

At what point, when a ship is listing, can the lifeboats no longer be used?
Tom Allan, maritime safety expert and consultant to the maritime industry, said during Thursday's Passenger Shipping Safety Conference: "The IMO requirement is that there should be the capability of launching the lifeboats when the ship is listing up to 20 degrees. If the list is more than 20 degrees, the lifeboats can still be launched but the master has to make the decision."

What about the muster drill? Was one conducted?
Per regulations dictated by the International Maritime Organization, the United Nations agency responsible for maritime safety, a muster drill must be conducted within 24 hours of a ship leaving an embarkation port. According to Foschi, the accident occurred some 3.5 hours after Concordia departed from Civitavecchia. Just under 700 new passengers boarded the ship in Civitavecchia, so, according to the CEO, the other roughly 2,500 passengers had already been drilled. The next muster drill had been scheduled for Saturday, said Foschi, when the ship was set to pick up more passengers in Savona. Concordia runs on a triple homeport setup, with passengers able to begin their cruise in Civitavecchia, Savona and Barcelona.

Almost all cruise lines, especially those with one embarkation port, conduct the muster drill prior to sailaway. There is one big reason for this, explained Brad Schoenwald, Senior Marine Inspector for the U.S. Coast Guard's Cruise Ship National Center of Expertise. The IMO requires a "safety briefing" -- distinct from the muster drill -- to be conducted immediately before or after a cruise ship departs, whenever new passengers embark. It's a little complicated, so bear with us. From the IMO's Safety of Life at Sea (SOLAS) requirements: "The briefing shall be made by means of an announcement, in one or more languages likely to be understood by the passengers. The announcement shall be made on the ship's public address system, or by other equivalent means likely to be heard at least by the passengers who have not yet heard it during the voyage. The briefing may be included in the required muster if the muster is held immediately upon departure. Information cards or posters or video programmes displayed on ships video displays may be used to supplement the briefing, but may not be used to replace the announcement." [Bolding added for emphasis.]

That said, most lines combine the safety briefing and the muster drill -- and complete both prior to sailaway.

How did the accident occur?
The line has repeatedly cited human error as the cause of the accident, with the ship's captain, Francesco Schettino, being blamed for the tragedy. Foschi has said repeatedly that Schettino deviated from the official computerized route taken by more than 100 Costa cruises a year. The diversion took Concordia within 150 meters (488 feet) of the Giglio coast, said Foschi, significantly closer than the standard route. The new course had never been attempted by the captain; he did, however, have nautical charts. Foschi said the charts clearly showed the rock formation that eventually led to the ship's demise.

Schettino has admitted to making a navigational error in the incident, according to reports on Thursday, when he "ordered a turn too late" as the ship was passing close to Giglio.

Foschi explained that the line painstakingly designs its navigational routes with safety, security and convenience in mind. "The captain, of course, does have the authority to change the approved course, but [we're] not expecting him to do so unless there are dangerous weather or sea conditions," he said. "[In] normal conditions, a normal situation ... the ship has to follow the route."

Italian investigators have seized the DVR (the so-called "black box" containing navigation data), so additional information will be made available as the investigation progresses. Prosecutor Francesco Verusio called the captain's decision to steer the ship into the reef- and rock-pocked waters "inexcusable." "We are struck by the unscrupulousness of the reckless maneuver that the commander of the Costa Concordia made near the island of Giglio," he told reporters.

Why did the captain deviate from the authorized course?
Reports suggest the captain may have been "showboating" for residents and tourists on the island by veering close to land. According to ABC News, "Italian media have reported that Schettino was close to the shore in order to wave to a friend who was on land." Giglio's news outlet says a similar maneuver in August 2011 earned Schettino a letter of thanks from the island's mayor. Costa's Foschi said that the August sail-by, which was timed in conjunction with Giglio's patron saint day, was pre-authorized by Costa and local maritime authorities. The ship stayed at least 500 meters (1,625 feet) from the coast for the entirety of the sail-by, added Foschi. Foschi also suggested that, this time around, the captain may have been showboating.

But, citing Automatic Identification System tracking data, which cruise ships with gross tonnage of 300 or more are required to divulge, shipping publication Lloyd's List reported that the August sail-by "took the vessel far closer to Giglio than the 500 meters claimed by [Foschi]" -- and within 200 meters (650 feet) of the "point of collision" on January 13.

Italian newspaper Corriere della Sera reported that Schettino brought the ship close to shore so that the head waiter, Antonello Tievoli, could see his native Giglio up close. Tievoli, a 12-year veteran of the ship, was supposed to disembark the week prior and take some time off, but at the last minute he stayed onboard to cover for an ill co-worker.

Schettino's attorney, Bruno Leporatti, said in a statement obtained Monday by the AP that the captain was "shattered, dismayed, saddened for the loss of lives and strongly disturbed."

Can a captain simply deviate from a voyage plan?
As explained above, the ultimate authority resides with the captain. He or she must be able to make executive decisions to deal with rough weather or any other condition that puts the safety of passengers and crew in jeopardy.

Still, the decision to change course is not made easily -- or at least it shouldn't be, explained Captain Bill Wright, senior vice president of marine operations for Royal Caribbean at a safety conference held in the aftermath of the disaster. "It is standard protocol, known as bridge resource management, that mandates that the voyage plan is followed," he noted. "If there should be an alteration, the bridge officers would go through a two-person check [as the captain of an aircraft does with his or her first officer] to make it. There would be an evaluation by the captain and the bridge team of the appropriate change in the ship's course to make."

Did the captain leave the ship early, as reports allege? Was it illegal to do so?
According to reports, the captain was spotted on land during the evacuation, and his fellow officers are said to have urged him to return to the ship. The matter is under investigation, and Costa's Foschi said it would be premature to make any judgment. "[We are] unable to ascertain whether he left the ship before evacuation process completed," said Foschi during the press conference. "Some internal testimony indicates that he tried, tried, tried to stay onboard ... but we have to wait for the formal investigations ... to see what is the behavior of the captain in this particular incident."

Now famous audio recordings surfaced on January 17 of alleged conversations between Captain Schettino and an Italian Coast Guard official. Though a Coast Guard official on Giglio said he could not confirm their authenticity, the audio recordings, published first on the Web site of Corriere della Sera, Milan's daily newspaper, place the captain on a lifeboat relatively early on in the evacuation, rather than on the bridge of the ship. In the exchange, coast guard officials ordered the captain back to the ship at one point during the conversation, but it is believed he did not return.

Alessandra Batassa, a lawyer in Rome, told CNN that "Abandoning ship is a maritime crime that has been on the books for centuries in Spain, Greece and Italy." Many other countries, including the U.S., have long abandoned the law, but nearly all experts in the maritime community agree that a captain leaving the ship before all passengers and crew are evacuated is, simply put, immoral. Royal Caribbean's Captain Bill Wright: "It is an unwritten law of the sea. I find it hard to understand any circumstances in which a captain would leave a ship prior to the evacuation." In addition, companies might have their own internal policies dictating who leaves the ship when.

What legal action is being taken against the captain?
Schettino and a fellow officer have been arrested on charges of manslaughter, abandoning ship before all others and causing a shipwreck. On Tuesday, the captain was released from jail and placed under house arrest after a judge heard testimony and determined he was not a flight risk. Italian news agency ANSA quoted the lawyer, Bruno Leporatti, as saying a judge turned down prosecutors' request to keep the captain in jail, but rejected a defense bid to set Schettino free. Cruise business publication Seatrade said Schettino's testimony "is not understood to have altered the current charge list, which carry a maximum sentence of 15 years."

On February 22, almost six weeks after the accident, four ship's officers and three Costa Crociere executives were added to the list of those under criminal investigation by Italian prosecutors. None have yet been charged.

What compensation is Costa providing passengers on the ill-fated cruise and future cruises?
On January 27, Costa announced more of its compensation plans for passengers onboard Costa Concordia on January 13 when it capsized. Passengers will be compensated about $14,500 apiece by the cruise line, according to media reports. The amount will cover lost baggage and psychological trauma, said the Associated Press, which added that the line "will also reimburse passengers the full costs of their cruise, travel expenses and any medical expenses sustained after the grounding." The deal does not cover those who lost loved ones in the disaster or who were injured, said the BBC.

Costa has revealed compensation packages for travelers booked on future Concordia cruises. As of now, booked passengers can cancel for a refund and get future cruise credit, or rebook a like-priced cruise on another Costa ship. Costa is also allowing passengers booked on any cruise with the line to cancel without penalty. For a full rundown of compensation options, click here.

Will there be lawsuits brought against Costa?
Passengers who reject the above-detailed deal can take legal recourse if they so desire. To that end, several class-action lawsuits are reportedly in the works against the line, asking for far more per claimant than the deal announced today. The largest potential monetary payout demanded to date is $460 million in a suit brought on behalf of four Americans and two Italians who rejected the 11,000 euro offer made by Costa Crociere. The civil suit was announced at a press conference in Genoa, but filed in Miami, Florida by Mitchell Proner, an American personal injury lawyer.

How does trip insurance play into such a disaster?
What Concordia passengers on the ill-fated cruise are eligible for, insurance-wise, depends on the compensation offered by the line, explained Judith Sutton, Vice President of Product Management for Travel Insured International. If Costa reimburses passengers for lost luggage and repatriation (flights home), the insured cannot double up via a policy. During a press conference on Monday, Costa's Foschi publicly stated that his company will offer remuneration for lost material possessions. The line has also been covering repatriation costs.

Absent compensation from the line -- or under a scenario where Costa's compensation falls short of passengers' claimed losses -- "benefits would apply under Trip Delay, Baggage, Medical (includes Evacuation and Medical Repatriation) and Accidental Death and Dismemberment," said Sutton. Of course, this depends on the benefit limit of the policy.

An insurance policy might also reimburse passengers for the missing days of the cruise -- again, provided Costa does not provide compensation. "My understanding is that Costa is reimbursing customers in this case," said Daniel Durazo, Director, Communications USA, for Access America. "In other cases, customers may qualify for trip interruption benefits if they miss more than half of their trip. Customers qualifying for trip interruption benefits may be reimbursed for the unused part of their prepaid travel expenses, up to the limit of their policy."

Durazo and Sutton said travel insurance is, of course, about taking a preventive approach -- i.e. ensuring that you're protected if the travel supplier refuses or is unable to cover out-of-pocket expenses incurred during an unexpected event. Regardless of whether or not Costa "comes through," keep in mind that all policies offer this benefit: a real person who can help stranded or distressed travelers 24 hours a day, seven days a week. This emergency hotline provides access to an advocate who can assist travelers in making alternate airline and hotel arrangements, contact embassies and even get in touch with worried loved ones.

The situation could be different for passengers booked on upcoming Concordia cruises -- who might suddenly have to cancel/change airfares and hotel stays. (Costa has already announced it will refund the full cruise fare of travelers departing between Jan .14 and Feb. 25.) If they purchased often prohibitively expensive "Cancel for Any Reason" plans (75 percent of non-refundable charges of supplier) or under the Travel Supplier Cancellation benefit, they may be eligible for reimbursements limited to the cost of the ticket or reissue fee charged by the airline. The insured must have protected the entire cost of the trip. But again, it depends on Costa's compensation packages offered to those on the now-canceled sailings.

As always, it's important that customers read their policy to understand the terms and limitations of their coverage.

What sort of environmental impact could the sunken ship have?
According to the Associated Press, the waters are a protected dolphin sanctuary. Concordia is carrying 2,300 tons of fuel, mostly of the dense, dangerous "heavy fuel" variety, but there have so far been no reports of any leaks. The operation to extract a half-million gallons of fuel from the wrecked ship is ongoing. Roughly two-thirds of the fuel contained within the stricken ship have been successfully removed from tanks near the bow. Plans to extract the remaining fuel from less accessible tanks toward the stern are set to continue in the coming weeks.

Smit, a Dutch maritime salvage company, is leading the operation, which will take 28 days to complete. According to the AP, the process involves attaching valves on each fuel tank, one on top, one on bottom, and connecting a hose to each valves. The fuel must be heated to reduce viscosity, and then it will be sucked out of the upper hose as sea water is simultaneously pumped in through the lower hose.

What will the financial cost to the company be?
Carnival Corp., the parent company of Costa Cruises, revealed that the disaster will lower the company's estimated net income for 2012 by up to $175 million. Carnival Corp. also revealed that, minus Costa, bookings across its other brands saw a mid-teen decline in volume for the 10 days after the disaster. The downturn bottomed out on January 16, and bookings have since been climbing back. Still, the company does not expect a long-term fall out to its business.

A damage assessment review of the vessel is being undertaken to determine how long it will be out of service. The vessel is expected to be out of service for the remainder of our current fiscal year if not longer, said Carnival Corp. in the disclosure.

The cost to insurers may another story, reported the New York Times. According to the Times, an analyst with Numis Securities in London estimated total liability at $800 million if the ship were scrapped.

Is the ship salvageable?
According to Seatrade Insider, two companies, SMIT and Titan, are said to be among those bidding on the contract to seal and right the vessel before towing it to safety. The cost of which industry sources said would run well in excess of $100 million, reported Seatrade.

Is the disaster making cruisers rethink the vacation style?
That's a no for nearly two-thirds of the people we've surveyed. Over 4,000 readers responded to the poll question, "Will you continue to cruise in light of the Concordia disaster?" with 65 percent saying they are not concerned, as the accident was an anomaly. Less than 4 percent responded that cruising is too risky and that they won't take to the seas again. Thousands of Cruise Critic readers have weighed in on our message boards and Facebook pages, too, and the vast majority see the accident as tragic -- but isolated. Agents are seeing the same response. "We haven't seen any cancellations as of [Monday]," said Vicky Garcia, executive vice president of sales and marketing for Cruise Planners/American Express, during a telephone interview with Cruise Critic. "Our booking pattern is pretty well on par with what we expect. My initial thought would have been, yes, things are going to be crazy, but as tragic as it was, people are keeping a pretty real perspective," she added.

Those in the "yes" or "maybe" columns have suggested that they'll be staying away from Costa in the near future. "Yes, will still cruise, but may think twice before booking Costa," wrote Victoria Poon on Facebook, echoing a familiar refrain.

Garcia did suggest, however, that first-time cruisers might think a little bit harder about cruising. Fellow agent Amber Blecker of CruiseOne agreed. "During the time this is a top story and the pictures on the news are non-stop, questions fresh and answers unresolved, new bookings will likely be quieter," she told USA Today.

In light of the disaster, is cruising safe?
In the wake of the accident, legions of industry agencies and trade arms have been publicly espousing the safety of cruise travel. Robert Ashdown, the European Cruise Council's technical, environment and operations director, told the Southern Daily Echo, a U.K.-based paper, that today's ships are more stable than ever. 'They can stand up to anything the weather can throw at them. They are designed to strict international standards.' The Passenger Shipping Association (PSA), a trade group that promotes cruise and ferry travel in the United Kingdom, released a statement calling the grounding an isolated incident. "Incidents of this nature are isolated and very rare," the statement reads. "Ships' crews undertake rigorous training, drills and scenarios for emergency situations including the evacuation of a vessel. The ships themselves comply with stringent regulations and procedures from the governing maritime authorities covering every aspect of their build and operation." For Cruise Critic's take on the "Is cruising safe?" question, see an editorial by Editor in Chief Carolyn Spencer Brown.

Will we see changes in cruise ship safety policies?
We already have. Effective February 9, all cruise ships now conduct muster drills prior to departing from port. The move -- coordinated by the member cruise lines of three international cruise associations -- was spurred by the capsizing of Costa Concordia and an industry-wide safety review conducted in its aftermath. In a joint statement, the Cruise Lines International Association, European Cruise Council, and the Passenger Shipping Association said they had voluntarily agreed to exceed current legal regulations regarding mustering outlined by the International Convention for the Safety of Life at Sea (SOLAS). Any passengers that embark after the official pre-cruise drill will promptly participate in an individual or group safety drill that meets SOLAS requirements.

It's important to note that the vast majority of major cruise lines already hold their muster drills before a ship leaves port. There are exceptions. Some ships, like Costa Concordia, that stop at multiple ports to pick up passengers, do not hold a muster until some passengers have already been onboard overnight -- but still within the 24 hour period.

Changes codified by the IMO could take longer to put in place. "There are two processes," explained Safety expert Tom Allan. "The Marine Safety Commission will meet in spring, when we presume the Italian maritime authorities will have submitted the results of its enquiry. Then it will be up to the IMO to debate. Any changes made by the IMO could take a few years. In the meantime, the ship operators themselves will look at their own procedures and hopefully implement changes in the interim."

--by Dan Askin, News Editor and Sue Bryant, Cruise Critic Contributing Editor

Related Content:
Update: Latest News on Concordia Disaster
The Mystery of the Muster: Cruise Safety Laws Explained
Lido Deck -- After Concordia: Is Cruising Safe?
Videos of Disaster From Around the Web
Cruise Critic Member Shares Harrowing Tale
Costa Announces Compensation Plans
In Their Words: Survivors of Disaster Describe the Scene
On the Boards: Cruise Critic Readers Discuss the Tragedy
Travel Insurance: What You Need to Know



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