By CYRIL TUOHY, managing editor of Risk & Insurance®
It took less than 45 minutes between the time the Costa Concordia hit a rocky outcropping in the Tyrrhenian Sea and the time Capt. Francesco Schettino gave the order at 10:10 p.m., Jan. 13, to abandon ship.
By the time Schettino gave the order, with seven short whistles and one long on the ship's blow horn, the mortally wounded Concordia was already listing sharply. Having lost power, the ship drifted and eventually ran aground off the island of Giglio.
The next morning, survivors and Giglio residents awoke to a stunning sight. One of the largest cruise ships in the Mediterranean lay keeled over 80 degrees in the water less than 100 yards from shore, a massive gash visible in its hull.
All it took was two hours between the time the ship slammed into a reef and the time it was listing so severely as to make the launch of some lifeboats useless. Comparisons to the Titanic, which went down 100 years ago in April, weren't lost on maritime historians.
Cruise ships built to sail relatively calm inland or sheltered seas, like the Mediterranean and the Caribbean, are designed with shallow drafts (meaning the bottoms of the ships don't go very deep under the water line), according to ship design experts and news articles. That allows them to sail into more ports, cruise closer to land and avoid the use of tenders.
The Concordia, at 950 feet long, has 13 passenger decks, with the top decks reaching more than 150 feet above the waterline. With a draft of 25.8 feet, the ship had five times as much height above the water line as it does below. The Concordia's design is similar to hundreds of other large cruise ships afloat and is fairly typical of modern cruise ship design. She undertook her maiden voyage in June 2006.
As ship builders have "piled on" more decks above the water line, they've allowed cruise ship companies to increase their revenues and generate more profit, but some commentators have noted how close ships are to a "tipping point."
"These cruise ships may seem high, but the trick is to ensure that the weight distribution is correct, focusing on where the center of gravity is," said Mark Staunton-Lambert, technical director of the London-based Royal Institution of Naval Architects, in a question-and-answer session posted on Safety4Sea, a website devoted to maritime safety.
Engines, ballast tanks and fuel oil, often the largest and heaviest objects on a ship, are kept low in the hull. Empty spaces above the water line are filled with people, furniture and amenities. Many shallow draft cruise ships deploy stabilizer "wings," which protrude from the hull under the water line to keep the ship level.
Modern cruise ships have to conform to regulations set by the International Maritime Organization, the United Nations specialized agency with responsibility for the safety and security of shipping and the prevention of marine pollution by ships. The Concordia would not have been cleared to sail without meeting the requirements, according to maritime experts.
The Concordia is owned by Carnival Corp. According to a Bloomberg report, the ship's hull is valued at $512 million, but the accident may cost insurers as much as $800 million once employer's liability claims are paid, said Nick Johnson, an analyst at Numis Securities Ltd. who was cited by Bloomberg.
Assicurazioni Generali SpA, RSA Insurance Group Plc. and XL Group Plc are among the insurers facing payouts for the ship, Bloomberg reported. Hannover Re, the world's fourth-largest reinsurer, said it will take a "major loss" exceeding 10 million euros from the accident.
More than 4,200 passengers and crew were on the ship when it ran aground; 13 people are confirmed dead and 20 remain missing, as of Tuesday, Jan. 24.
January 24, 2012
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