Why Modern Navigational Technology Didn't Prevent the Costa Concordia Accident

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Marco Werman: Julian Bray is a writer, broadcaster, and a cruise industry analyst. He joins us from Cambridge in England. How is it possible that an accident like this in this day in age, how can they just not know where the rocks, and reefs, and other hazards are?

Julian Bray: Well, that is the big question. This is a 21st century cruise liner. It's a new ship. It has state-of-the-art navigational equipment on. It's got zero positioning, it's go satellites, you name it, they can actually plot this ship to within three inches. Now, why was it right off its plotted course? Because apparently the captain wanted to actually showboat, if you like. He wanted to take his near an island where a retired officer lived, and so he could actually hoot the horn three times and say look, I have a wonderful ship for you. They did it once before apparently, but that time it was actually authorized by the company, and they said fine, you can do that. But this time he did it off his own back, according to the company. And I have to say there will be an investigation, so all these allegations have to be put to the captain and the first officer.

Werman: Are there any mechanisms on a cruise liner that prevent a captain actually going into too shallow water?

Bray: No, because the captain, the master as he's known, the master is the authority on board for everything. You look to the master, the master has a master's ticket and so therefore, he's expected to be highly professional and his first responsibility is to look after his passengers, then look after the ship. And so that is exactly what he has to do. There is no leeway on this, it's a well-known industry standard, this is what you do. They layout the procedure and it's very, very detailed. Why on earth he decided to do this, if he did decide to do it, he claims that he was well within bounds and there was no rocks charted, but the point is he did end up on a ridge and quite frankly, he shouldn't have been there in the first place.

Werman: You said that the Costa Concordia is a 21st century ship. Let's just talk about the ship design for a moment, because if you look at modern cruise ships they look tall, they look top heavy. Are they safe?

Bray: Well, they are safe because they're basically, all the weight is in the base of this particular structure, and there's no weight on the top because the upper structure is all lightweight aluminum. All the heavy weight stuff is way down below, so it is very low center of gravity. So it can sway one way or the other, but it will still regain its center of gravity. That's what they're designed to do. They do have flat bottoms these ships, but they also have a couple of fins that go out either side that are stabilizers, and that make sure that you know, that they always are level in the water. Now, if I'm on a cruise ship and it's more than five degrees list, then I am very angry, I am a very upset passenger. Now, he actually let it go to 20 degrees list initially, so frankly, everybody will be up in arms, things will be sliding everywhere, and there'll be some injuries as well. So surely at that stage he should've sounded the emergency alarm basically, it's one below abandon ship, this is emergency stations, which is seven short blasts on the whistle and one long blast. And that would've actually put everything in train. All the staff would then go to their master stations, go to their various...They would then go into their routine to get everybody off of the ship. For some reason he doesn't seem to have done this. I don't have all the detail here, no doubt the inquiry will find it out.

Werman: Julian Bray, a cruise industry analyst, thank you very much for your time.

Bray: Thank you.