Italian Costa Cruise disaster: a terribly sad reminder of human frailty
We hardly think about it any more, do we? We hop inside metal cans that hurtle us at 37,000 feet over vast stretches of polar ice caps and thousands of miles of empty ocean. We travel to Europe or Asia and strap ourselves into trains that fire us along at dizzying rates of speed. And we joyfully climb aboard massive cruise ships that hold as many people as a small city and are bigger than skyscrapers.
And we hardly give thought to the human factor until something goes terribly wrong. Pilots get confused during storms over the Atlantic Ocean, sending passengers to their death as they wing their way between South America and Europe. High-speed trains are, evidently, poorly designed and crash in China. And, now a cruise ship captain slams his vessel into rocks that have been in the same position off the Italian island of Giglio for thousands of years and almost certainly are marked and noted in nautical charts.
It's pretty scary. I mean, here we are supping on steak and red wine at dinner, or watching a magic show, as was the case for many on the Costa ship, and suddenly the captain makes a mistake. Seconds later, it's utter chaos. People are dying and the ship lies nearly belly up on the rocks off the coast of what looks like a lovely, placid island of Giglio.
Costa Cruises issued a statement Sunday saying their looking into the actions of captain Francesco Schettino. Officials said he “appears to have not followed standard Costa procedures.” It also seems he abandoned ship well before many passengers, a hugely serious charge in the industry.
A report in The Guardian and quotes from the maritime professionals' union paint a rather disturbing picture of the cruise industry.
"The alarm bells have been ringing with many of us for well over a decade now," said Andrew Linington, director of communications for Nautilus International, the maritime union. "We believe a lot of basic safety principles are being compromised to maximize revenue."
Linington, and this is pretty disturbing, said safety training for cruise workers "is a fraction of what it is on airlines." Wow.
We often hear comments like this after a disaster. I don't recall seeing any press releases or comments from cruise line workers telling me about these dangers prior to this weekend. Suddenly, however, the media is calling this guy and he's offering up his opinions and they're getting publicity, which is fair enough. Chances are there are all kinds of improvements that would make cruising - and travel in general - much safer. And, chances are, cruise lines worried about their bottom line aren't always jumping at the chance to implement new procedures.
Incidents on cruise ships are admittedly pretty rare. But this latest tragedy certainly is food for thought, and another reminder that a lot of what happens to us depends on human beings just like ourselves; people we trust with our lives on a daily basis.
Scary stuff. And more to come in the next few days, I'm sure.