Costa Concordia from Giglio - click photo for Reuters story
No one (especially mariners) can have missed the extensive news coverage the COSTA CONCORDIA sinking has generated. And the unfortunate event has become a touchstone for many issues: including mariners' conduct, passenger safety, and ship design. 

Thirty people died in the tragedy, and two more are still missing. From "Chicken of the Sea" to environmental concerns; from views from space to the public's trust of mariners (see  "COSTA CONCORDIA From Space" among other COSTA CONCORDIA stories, for background, in the Categories list on the right side of the page), it has been an iconic and arresting story. As a mariner myself, I've felt indirectly involved, and somewhat sullied, by the affair. 

Although the saga is far from over, another step has been taken toward resolution - and it appears that Costa Cruises has taken the high road in this, at least. It was announced last week that the COSTA CONCORDIA salvage contract has been awarded to Titan Salvage and Micoperi Marine  - both established and capable salvage and wreck removal operators (click the photo above to go to Reuters' story, or click here to access a similar story on MSNBC.) 

The gist of the announcement is that the wreck will be salvaged in one piece, re-floated to be towed away for demolition within Italy. The seafloor upon which she has lain since Capt. Francesco Schettino grounded her there on 13 January 2012 will be cleaned and put into condition to restore marine life. Salvage crews and equipment will be based at Civitavecchia, instead of Giglio, to lessen the impact of the operation on the tourist-dependent island. The project will take approximately a year to complete.

"As was the case with the removal of the fuel, we have sought to identify the best solution to safeguard the island and its marine environment and to protect its tourism," outgoing Costa CEO Pier Luigi Foschi said in a statement. He said that the Titan-Micoperi project was the most expensive of those proposed by, among other unsuccessful bidders, Smit and Neri. The base contract would be worth $300 million but "it could also cost more", he said. I think the additional amount for the best and most complete job will prove to be money well spent for Costa Cruises, who well and truly want to put this behind them.

I noted above that the tragedy has become a touchstone for several maritime issues, and obviously one of them - in view of the fatalities in this incident - is passenger safety. In spite of the well-developed cruise industry's apparent focus on passenger safety, there were glaring shortcomings in the COSTA CONCORDIA case. 

At the time of the accident no lifeboat drills had yet been held, which conformed to the legal requirement that drills should be held within 24 hours of sailing - but that was exposed as sadly lacking in this case. And the paralysis on the bridge after contacting the rock - during which passengers were ordered back to their cabins as the ship took water - contributed to the confusing, disorderly evacuation, and may have added to the loss of life. Challenges posed in evacuating today's larger cruise ships, with their many thousands of passengers, were brought dramatically to life.

In March the IMO featured this release on its website, highlighting passenger deaths in several accidents, including COSTA CONCORDIA, MV RABAUL QUEEN, & SHARIATPUR-1, and stating IMO's commitment to passenger safety. 

And on 24 April, EU Transport Commissioner Siim Kallas delivered a keynote speech at a passenger safety conference in Brussels, setting out a three-pronged approach to addressing passenger safety: 1) promoting industry voluntary measures; 2) intensifying enforcement and implementation; and 3) regulatory measures. (See the Safety4Sea website for a good analysis of the speech and its implications.) 

Just as an aside: it seems that for the media in general, deaths on a cruise ship in the First World seem to count a good bit more than deaths on a ferry in the Third World. I applaud Siim Kallas' observation: "The ultimate aim must be that wherever a passenger boards a passenger ship in the world, safety should be at the highest possible level. Passengers should expect the same safety level standards whether they are crossing for example the Baltic Sea, or sailing on an island daytrip in Asian waters." Amen.

Are you involved in the industry response to these incidents? Have you been a passenger recently? How do you see this issue - Please comment and let us know!

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