Italy disaster shows Titanic lifeboat issues linger

The capsizing of the Costa Concordia has put the issue of safety at sea in the spotlight once more

From The Malaysian Insider

The capsizing of the Costa Concordia will pressure the cruise industry to address a safety question that has lingered since the Titanic disaster almost 100 years ago — how to get thousands of people off a giant cruise ship into lifeboats quickly.

Carnival Corp, owner of the Concordia, conceded on Thursday that the accident, which has led to the deaths of at least 11 people with another 24 unaccounted for out of its 4,200 passengers and crew, “has called into question our company’s safety and emergency response procedures.” A Carnival spokesman could not immediately comment on whether the company’s safety review would include the lifeboats.

“The regulations rely on untrained and frightened passengers being able to deal with life rafts in the absence of trained crew members — including having to board them from the water,” said John Dalby, a former oil tanker captain who now runs maritime security firm Marine Risk Management.

“The whole point of the Titanic regulations was to avoid what happened with her, and it has now happened again with Costa — that is, the difficulty, if not impossibility, of launching lifeboats from the ‘high side,’“ Dalby said, referring to the side of the boat tipped into the air.

In the wake of the Titanic disaster, maritime regulations make it mandatory for all ships to have a minimum of 125 per cent lifeboat and life raft capacity, comprising 50 per cent on each side of the ship plus an additional 25 per cent available.

According to the International Chamber of Shipping, they are designed to be ready for use within five minutes and to be filled as quickly as needed.

But all of that is for naught if the lifeboats cannot get into the water, or if the ship finds itself in distress in adverse conditions — late at night, in a storm or far from land, for example.

That was the lesson the Titanic first taught in 1912, when — besides not having enough lifeboats on board — some lifeboats did not launch properly in the ship’s final, harried minutes.

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