Jan 23, 2012
The shipwreck of the cruise ship Costa Concordia off the isle of Giglio in the Mediterranean led to at least eleven deaths, 21 missing and several dozen wounded, out of the 3,200 passengers and thousand crew members.
The shipping company, Carnival Corp., of which Costa is an affiliate, hurried to throw the entire blame on the Concordia’s captain. It does seem he steered the ship onto the reefs and then was incapable of pulling it off. And he abandoned the ship before all the passengers and crew were safe.
But what the shipwreck really shows is the risk of bringing together thousands people, among whom were very few professional sailors, in what more resembled a floating casino than a ship on the high seas.
In fact, several hours were needed to evacuate everyone. Yet the weather was good and the ship ran aground very close to an inhabited, well-lit coast from which aid came. However, even if the lifeboats had all been operational, the crew had no way to rapidly evacuate thousands of panicked and inexperienced people in an unknown and dangerous environment. What would have happened in the case of fire or storm in the middle of the ocean? What would have happened if the Concordia had sunk instead of running aground?
In order to cut the cost per passenger, cruise lines buy larger ships, needing larger crews, to provide swimming pools, casinos, supermarkets, gyms, ballrooms, even floating gardens and an elevated train on the ship. In this way, shipowners create floating cities. In order to go so close to the coasts that tourists can touch the rocks or to maneuver between two supertankers, cruise ships draw the least possible water, making them extremely unstable in the case of strong winds. There have been several incidents in the English Channel and the Caribbean with cruise ships floundering.
Despite this, the shipowners build ever bigger ships. The next generation will carry 8,000 people aboard. The same logic of profitability prevails in the entire shipping industry. So ships with 13,000 containers stacked in eight layers above the deck go through the English Channel every day, almost blindly. They are way too heavy to be towed to rescue in case of accident. But who cares? They are already building even bigger ships.
This race for size is a race for profit. Carnival had almost two billion dollars in profit last year – 12% of its income. Let the ships sail on!