By Arab News
By Abdulateef Al-Mulhim
The Titanic hit an iceberg on the night of Sunday, April 14, 1912.
It sank on April 15. It took with it 1517 lives. The collision was avoidable, but a series of mistakes, overconfidence and the search for fame all contributed to the tragic incident. The captain wanted to beat every maritime record in regard to the Atlantic crossing. The radio operator was under pressure to satisfy the elite passengers with their communications with their families, friends and business associates. And he didn’t pay a lot of attention to the warning massages from different ships about the presence of large icebergs. This was 100 years ago. There were no modern radars, no GPS, no satellite communications and no advanced method of iceberg tracking. And still, no excuses were given to the ship’s captain or the company that operated the Titanic. If the Titanic didn’t hit an iceberg and reached New York Harbor in four days, the captain Edward Smith would have been Neil Armstrong and Charles Lindbergh put together. This was in 1912. So, why one hundred years later did the Costa Concordia capsize when it was equipped with the most sophisticated state-of the-art navigation equipment, radars, GPS, updated charts and back-up systems? These two ships, 100 years apart, simply went from fame to shame.
A lot of people who never worked on ships are always surprised to see ships in the open ocean collide. They see each other from a distance and they are aware of each other tens of miles away by radar. People also wonder why do ships sink or run aground if modern day navigation practically drives the ship. However, there should always be contingency plans and room for human error.
I have been aboard cruise ships as a passenger, but I have also been aboard navy ships. I was the commanding officer of H.M.S. Khalid, a Royal Saudi Navy ship. In general, a ship is a ship. But, they differ in what is required of them. Cruise ships are different from navy ships or oil tankers. Their missions are different. Navy ships don’t like to be seen when they are at sea. And modern day navy ships fire their weapons from great distances, so they don’t need to be close to shores. And only special types of navy ships are designed to come very close to the shores. They are called Amphibious Ships.
So why was the Costa Concordia incident different? Was it because the ship was huge and carried thousands of passengers and crew? Should we blame lack of coordination between the captain, the crew, the company or even the passengers? Cruise ships such as this one carry a lot of passengers, and the Costa Concordia carried about 4,000 and a crew of 1,100. The hard question is, what if the ship was further out at sea when it hit the reef listed and then sank. Would there have been more deaths? And why would a ship this size come so close to the shore? Perhaps the captain was trying to show off his talent, or the company had given an unwritten order to please the passengers in any way. Also, it is very important to know: Was the captain on the bridge and were there people who were not supposed to be on the bridge such as a celebrity whom the crew wanted to please? Or did a crewmember give a tour of the bridge to a beautiful young lady, as it was claimed? And I always wonder if the cruise ship’s captains attend the parties with the passengers and drink alcohol when on duty.
The Costa Concordia accident was the result of a series of mistakes. The most important fact is that we rely on modern technology more than we should. Captains and crewmembers should be thoroughly trained repeatedly. And something mariners always act upon is that when they miss a turn or are not sure of the depth, then a common sense action is simply to slow down. Cruise ship companies should not just care about making profits, but should also be more concerned about ensuring the safety of passengers and that should override any form of entertainment. And after Costa Concordia incident, cruise officials should go aboard these ships regularly to oversee the conduct of captain and crew and their adherence to the safety rules. However, in the end a ship captain is highly paid, highly trained and should therefore be highly responsible. After a collision at sea, the captain will see his friends disappear, even the company that hires him will distant itself from him.
– Write to Abdulateef Al-Mulhim at: [email protected]