Tuesday, 17 January 2012

Little Concord off the Coast of Italy

Since Friday 13th January the world has seen, when it could tear its attention away from other disasters around the planet, the tragedy of many deaths (20 and rising) in the capsize/shipwreck of the holiday cruise vessel Costa Concordia. This occurred on Friday evening after the ship (with 4000 passengers) had departed Civitavecchia ("Old Town") the port nearest to Rome, headed north through the broad channel east of the island of Giglio.

No doubt much will emerge from proper study of the ship's salvaged "black box", satellite imagery and interviews with officers, crew and surviving passengers. The dominant impression so far is that of captain and owners - the Costa Line - vying with each other in disclaiming responsibility. The main consistency lies in the accounts of confusion and panic, and lack of organized response; that, and the glaringly obvious fact that the unfortunate ship had no business being where she was ... with dire consequences.

We tend to generalize, and I'm no exception. I would not by choice set foot on an Italian-run ship ever since being a passenger with my family on the Italian Sitmar Line's ship Fairstar from Melbourne to Southampton, in 1971. I could cite three cogent  reasons for arriving at such a negative view. I'd describe the faults I observed as systemic and cultural, and now I'm intrigued to be hearing things that remind me of my own experience: a sample -- reporting with radio frequencies what appeared to be a Mayday (m'aidez) distress call picked up on my own shortwave radio. Reaction from senior officers was complete lack of interest.

Between 1940 and 1971, I sailed as passenger - a total of 20 weeks at sea - on six  ships, Dutch, British, Finnish and the wretched Italian event above. I exclude several Bass Strait and North Sea ferry trips, but note in passing that the newest biggest North Sea ferry launched a year ago is bigger the the poor old ill-fated Titanic. Size isn't everything. In 1954 on the U.K. ship Orsova we sailed the Concordia's route  southward past Giglio Island to Civitavecchia; thence to Naples and later the North African coast. In 1989 from the Italian naval base town of La Spezia - also on this famous coast - I enjoyed a great if short trip visiting "le cinque terre" which the five coastal towns are called. How sad that this glorious part of the world will now be associated with maritime ineptitude and death.

1 comment:

  1. Hello Will, I am interested in the Melbourne to Southampton voyage in 1971. I was also on the Fairstar leaving Melbourne on 12 March 1971. I was only 12 at the time.