Discovery Channel Documentary on the Costa Concordia Disaster

The Discovery Channel aired its documentary on Costa Concordia disaster last Sunday, Feb 19th.   If you have not seen it yet, it is definitely worth watching for its expert analysis of situation and the harrowing interviews with passengers who survived the tragedy.

Focus and Expertise

Unlike the hastily produced sensational episode of 20/20 which aired on ABC, this documentary focused solely on the causes, mistakes and survival stories.  Just days after the disaster, the 20/20 episode aired about 15 minutes of information related to the Costa disaster and then spent the remainder of the hour showing videos of crew member parties and drunk passenger videos from cruise ships unrelated to this incident.    The Discovery Channel documentary focused on the facts of the incident guided by forensic analysis of maritime industry experts.   The producers also interviewed three sets of passengers offering differing perspectives of the disaster: a group from one of the first deployed life boats, a couple who had to jump into the water from the low side of the ship, and an entire family who was trapped on the high side of the ship.   The picture painted from the expert analysis and the passenger stories provided new and revealing information.

Two Shocking  Facts Brought Light

The show revealed  two important facts not brought to light in previous reports.   First, the  show featured an interview with a family who’s muster station was located on the high side of the listing ship.   They were loaded onto the life boats but because the ship was tilted past the 20 degree point, the crew could not lower the life boat.   The crew then ordered the passengers off the life boats and back onto the ship.  The passengers then tried to make their way through the hull of the ship to the down side of the ship.  But at that point that side of the ship had sunk below the water line.   They then became trapped, unable to climb up the steep angle.   Finally, someone lowered a rope ladder to them and they were able to climb out.   Once on the high side of the ship they then had to climb down another rope ladder and make a jump timed to the ups and downs of the waves, onto ta rescue boat.

Second,  the show explained how the ship ended up on the rocks close to land after the initial collision.   Most people had previously thought that the captain had intentionally steered the ship into the shallow cove near the island in order to keep it close to land to prevent sinking.   The show revealed that the ship had lost all power and propulsion minutes after ship hit the rocks which ripped open the bottom of the ship.   At that point it drifted out to sea on its previous momentum.   However as a stroke of luck, the winds in the Mediterranean were such that they blew the ship back towards the island and beached it on the rocks.     The closing moments of the documentary stated that if the ship had sunk in deeper waters, meaning completely, many more people would have lost their lives.   Perhaps even 100’s or 1000’s of people.

Err on the Side of Caution

As I was watching the show, I couldn’t help but think that the most grave error was that as soon as the crew learned that the ship was taking on water, they didn’t immediately ordered a precautionary loading of the life boats.    Outside observers already knew that it had taken over an hour from the time the ship hit the rocks till they decided to load the life boats.   The show revealed that the once the crew or captain gave the abandon ship orders, the list made doing so very difficult, and many passengers reacted in a state of panic.    Had the passengers be instructed to load the boats earlier as a precautionary measure, more lives could have been saved and the survivors could have been spared the terror of panic situation.

Learning from the Tragedy

With the announcement that all passengers must participate in a life boat/muster drill before the ship departs the embarkation port, the cruise line industry has already taken a first step in learning from this situation and insuring better safety standards.   My hope is that the industry will continue to look for better ways to handle emergency situations and more efficiently evacuate passengers.

The show will air at least two more times this week.
Feb 21, 10:00 pm and Feb 22, 12:00 am, all times Eastern, please adjust times for your time zone.