THE CHAIN LOCKER
I know you've been watching developments in the COSTA CONCORDIA cleanup. An ambitious plan has been developed by Titan and Micoperi to float the ship off in one piece and restore the sea bottom to its former state - see this update from Marine Log. And also this excellent recent story from gCaptain.

As noted in a previous post (click "Costa Concordia Salvage" in the Categories listing to the right of the page for story and links to the salvage companies) Costa Cruises seems to have taken the high road after the tragedy, choosing the salvage bid that would do the best job of protecting Giglio's tourism ecosystem, even though that bid was the highest. They seem to have firmly got the message that in the maritime world, as in any other, the highest standards are also actually the most cost-effective. It's cheaper, safer - and much more morally defensible when lives are at stake - to do it right. But did they get that message a little too late?

News has just broken that the COSTA CONCORDIA investigation has been hampered because the ship's Voyage Data Recorder (VDR) was not working at the time. The VDR had also repeatedly broken down prior to the tragedy; leaked emails between Costa's technical director and a ship repair company reportedly described the situation as "intolerable". The VDR was to have been fixed again on January 14th - the day after she was steered into the rocks - although Costa said that the VDR was working at the time of the accident. See this post on Maritime Executive for those details. 

The same Maritime Executive post reveals that apparently COSTA CONCORDIA's watertight doors were left open, which Costa also denies. But some of the ship's officers reportedly claim that leaving the doors open was unofficial standard practice "to make it easier for employees to come and go." 

I know you've heard that one before - I certainly have! It's much more common in the industry than anyone would like to admit. But unclosed watertight doors have been critical factors in many sinkings. I won't even link to one, because I know you've heard of such incidents yourself.

But here's a link to a blog post and video from The Monitor of an incident involving a river tug in trouble in high current on the Mississippi River. The tug would undoubtedly have sunk except that her watertight doors were tightly closed! And yet, as a tug man myself, I can remember instances where the doors were left open, simply for convenience' sake - as indicated in the COSTA CONCORDIA case. 



In addition to "convenience" I think we might add another "c" to that: complacency. I don't know how many of you are familiar with the history of the union movement in our industry. Those who are will know that some of the most powerful wellsprings of the maritime union effort arose because of some companies' carelessness or cost-cutting with regard to seamen's safety & well-being. 

Many of those poor practices have been rectified these days, and almost everyone - from the seaman to his shipowner - seems to realize that safe practices are also good, economical business practices. It's never cheaper to have an accident or a sinking! And when lives are at stake, it's never right to save a few dollars by risking them. Most companies and sailors now understand that.

So as seamen, let's not throw away those hard-won advances through our own complacency or laziness! Being timid in that cause is unacceptable, too. Those officers who testified that the watertight doors on COSTA CONCORDIA were routinely left open should have spoken up (and perhaps they did - we don't know) to correct the situation. Sometimes it takes courage to do the right thing.

Are you aware of any safety lapses on your vessel that could be corrected? Today you have the weight of the law and recognized safe practice behind you. Speak up - for your own safety, and that of your shipmate. Get help and support from other crew members in pointing out a hazard, if you feel it's necessary. Point out that safe practice is also good, responsible business practice that will even save money in the long run.

How you have dealt with similar situations? Comment and tell us. It will encourage the rest of us to practice safety awareness, and it may prevent an injury or save a life!