100 years of safety progress?

I began this piece with the intention of mentioning the centenary of the Titanic sinking and the lessons that have been learned as a result.

Then, the Costa Concordia went aground, and the media began drawing comparisons between this latest cruise ship incident and that other passenger vessel sinking 100 years before. Looking at mere figures, we would seem to have progressed a long way in maritime safety. Far more people were onboard the Costa Concordia and a mere fraction were lost. But conditions in the coastal Mediterranean are far different from the North Atlantic.

Ignoring speculation about the command of the Concordia and the effectiveness of the evacuation procedures – all will be revealed in official inquiries – the mainstream media is probably right to draw comparisons between the incidents. Titanic was described as ‘unsinkable’, while the modern cruise industry has insisted, ever since the launch of the first mega-cruise ships, that the redundant propulsion systems will not leave the ship helpless in case of failure, and the ships are designed to stay upright and afloat if holed.

I recall, when visiting one of the first 3,000-passenger ships at the builder in Finland, asking about evacuation of so many passengers, maybe in a worried state, and over 1,000 crew, many of whom will not be trained seafarers. Such a thing is never likely to be necessary was the answer.

“The ship is its own best lifeboat” say the cruise operators. Unfortunately that has been proven not to be the case.

And we also need to bear in mind that although the loss of 13-plus passengers is bad enough, far larger numbers of seafarers are being lost all too frequently, with little recognition from the mass media.

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