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Clays Corner – All Things Nautical Or Not

Search For Survivors Continues On Cruise Ship Costa Concordia
Tullio M. Puglia/Getty Images

The picture you see has been shown around the world on every possible facet of media. Television, Internet, print and the list goes on. I first learned of this horrible Maritime disaster while I was attending a US Navy reunion in Jacksonville, Florida last week. Many of us (with who know how many combined years at sea) all had a theory or two about what happened.

Of course all of the navigation types chimed in stating they should have never left the main channel and where was the harbor pilot? Maritime laws require a pilot on the ship when arriving or departing the harbor. They are specialists in this and they know it inside and out, front to back and could probably navigate it blindfolded. But not recommended.

After we heard that the Captain wanted to steer the ship close to the Island just outside the port entrance to pay tribute to a former sea captain, we all raised an eyebrow.

First going off course to make a salute is a risky thing day or night. You may not have all of the latest charts for that area. The seas change. Rocks move. The depth may have become more shallow. You may think you know the area but maybe not. There are (most of the time) buoys or day markers that indicate hazardous areas and shallow waters and this is a pretty clear indication not to go there.

Maritime law places the Captain of the ship responsible for all actions of the crew and the ship and its safety at all times. So why did he abandon ship first? Why were there many crew who did not fully understand the magnitude of what was happening or about to happen? Why did the Coast Guard have to “order him” back on the ship?

May questions will never be fully answered. Again all of us ‘sailors’ had our own opinions on who what when and why. We mostly shook our head and felt pain for the injured or killed and for those missing.

Even as a retired sailor with 22 years of navigating in and out of ports all over the world, I never heard of the event that lead to this accident. Sure you have heard of merchant ships having issues like the Exxon Valdez which caused Billions of dollars in damage not only to the ship but the environment as well. The Edmond Fitzgerald sank in the Great Lakes. Those and many others all had one thing in common. Common Nautical Sense. Did not have to happen but they did.

I am sure that the entire cruise industry is taking a hard line review of its policies on navigation and emergency procedures and is making sure that all crew members are well versed on how to take care of the problem, should it arise again. But, lets hope and pray that is does not.

Final thought on this. Isn’t it ironic that this occurred just 3 months shy of the 100th anniversary of the Titanic?

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