Costa Concordia - Passenger Evacuation
Costa Concordia was certified for a maximum of 3780 passengers and a total maximum of 4890 persons on board. At the time of the collision there were 4229 persons on board the vessel; 3206 passengers and 1023 crew. The muster drill had not yet been held for the 696 passengers who boarded the vessel in Civitavecchia (Port of Rome).
Lack of information or understanding about the extent of the damage and flooding. Within 10 minutes of the collision the Chief Engineer had informed the personnel on the bridge about flooding in two WTC (No. 6 & 7). A 2nd Engineer’s report on the flooding in WTC No. 5 was passed onto the bridge. The Chief Mate then informs the Staff Captain (ships second-in-command) about flooding in WTC No. 5, 6 & 7. Despite this at 22:20 pm (35 minutes after the collision) the Captain is still asking how many compartments are flooding to which the confirmation “3 compartments flooded” is given. It is not clear when or if the bridge team became aware of flooding in WTC No. 4 & 8.
Delay in managing the emergency. The original collision occurred at 21.45 pm but the General (Abandon ship) Alarm was only given at 22.48 pm. Even assuming that just two WTC were flooded the appropriate action would be to immediate sound the general emergency alarm to get the passengers to their muster stations in preparation for a safe and orderly evacuation should the abandon ship order need to be given.
Following the massive jolt and noise caused by the original collision, and the subsequent blackout the initial message to the passengers via the public announcement system was “Ladies and gentlemen, your attention please, I speak on behalf of the Captain, we are currently in a blackout experience an electrical fault. At this point the situation is under control”. At some point, passengers and crew started spontaneously putting on lifejackets, and assembling in the lifeboat areas. Again, a member of the crew, under the captain’s command, informed the passengers that “We kindly ask you to return to your cabin or if you prefer you can stay in the lounges. Once we’ve finished addressing the problem that we have the electrical problem with the generator everything will be fine. This is why we have these emergency lights. Everything is under control. If you wish to remain here, that’s fine but I kindly ask you to return to your cabin and stay calm”. This was despite the fact that the ship probably had a noticeable list and it would have been fairly obvious to many people that there was more than just an electrical problem.
Seeming lack of co-ordination and direction from bridge team to crew involved in safety issues hindered the management of the general emergency and abandon ship phases and contributed to initiatives being taken by individuals. Some of this poor communication seems to have been put down to the lack of wireless telephone system between the key personnel involved in the emergency.
Possible lack of understanding or training of some of the crew about their individual roles and responsibilities in an emergency. Some of the officers in charge of the lifeboats either did not possess the correct safety certification or their certificates had expired. The majority of the crew were Filipinos, Indian, and Indonesia. In total the crew was made up of 38 different nationalities. Not all the crew were able to understand the emergency instructions in the ships working language (Italian).
Following the initial missed critical turn and the subsequent collision, Costa Concordia lost propulsion power but its momentum continued to carry the vessel past the port of Giglio. The vessel continued to slow down and moves away from the Island into deeper water, probably aided by and the rudder being hard to starboard. The ship continues to slow down until it is almost dead in the water, resulting in the loss of the ability to actively steer the vessel. Under the influence of the wind/waves the ship then drifts back towards the island and the second grounding. There was some speculation about whether the vessels bow thrusters may have been used to help rotate the bow back towards the port, however, it’s not clear whether there was actually any power for the thrusters. The wind was blowing from East-North-East at a speed of 17 knots that intensifies up to 19 knots at 23.00 pm. Normally, if a ship is be deliberately grounded to prevent it from sinking it would be manoeuvred so that the bow is pointing towards the beach and then driven ahead. However, with limited or no steering ability the Costa Concordia drifted sideways onto the rocky seabed near the Island.
Evidently not understanding the extent and potential consequences of the damage and flooding the captain delayed sounding the general emergency alarm. Instead he waits until the ship is closer to the shore and a more sheltered location before sounding the alarm and issuing the abandon ship order. The abandon ship order can never be an easy order to give especially on a cruise ship. The Captain will know that there is the distinct probability of some passengers being in injured during such an operation and even a possibility of fatalities, particularly if the operation has to be conducted at night in the open sea.
Extracts from the bridge recordings:
- “Good evening Costa Concordia, do you have any problems on board? Yes, affirmative, we have a blackout on board, we are checking the situation. Do you require any assistance or, for the time being, are you staying around the Island of Giglio? Yes, affirmative we will stay here to verify the blackout. What type of problem is it? Is it just a generator? Because the police received a call from the relative of a crew member who said that during dinner, everything fell on his head. No negative. We have a blackout and we are verifying conditions on board.”
- “Everything is going to hell here. We have a gash. I believe we’re letting in water.”
- “The director is asking if we only have two compartments breached. With two compartments breached we can survive - there are no problems.”
- “ Now they can’t get the pump’s working”
- “We are now drifting towards the shore, what depth are we here? Over a hundred metres. OK we have to see if we can make it with the length of our anchor chain. Let’s drift a bit more to shallow water and then drop the anchor. At worst we’ll sit on the seabed. Let’s wait and see.”
- “Captain, the passengers are starting to make their way to the lifeboats by themselves. Shall we let them go to land? OK, shall we sound the emergency alarm? Yes, go on. Wait, wait, shall I give the emergency signal?”
- “What shall we do? What shall we do?”
- “Let’s abandon the ship. Abandon ship!”
- Public announcement “Ladies and Gentlemen, your attention please, we ask that you remain calm and please proceed to your muster station, located on deck 4. Please put on your lifejackets. I repeat, please put on your lifejackets. And proceed to your muster station.”
The evacuation of a large passenger vessel is usually a two stage process with an assembly and an abandonment phase /passenger-ship-evacuation.html. Once the general emergency alarm is sounded (seven short and one long blast on the ships horn) passengers are asked to assemble at their muster stations. Depending upon the ship operators procedures passengers will either collect their lifejackets from their cabins or be issued if them at the muster stations. Crew will be stationed in staircases and corridors on all decks to guide the passengers and to search all areas of the ship for passengers if necessary. On a ship the size of Costa Concordia this phase could take 40-60 minutes. There are no mandatory regulations on how long this process should take but there are some IMO guidelines available (www.rina.org.uk/msc-circ-1033-1238.html). The abandonment phase commences begins when the Captain issues the “abandon ship” order. SOLAS regulations specifies the maximum time (currently set at 30 minutes) that it should take to prepare and launch the lifeboats and life rafts from a passenger ship, once the passengers are actually assembled. If necessary, the abandonment phase can start before all passengers have assembled.
23 of the 26 lifeboats were launched; 3 lifeboats on the port side could not be launched due to the significant list of the vessels. Lifeboats must be capable of being launched when the ship has a list of 20 degrees in either direction. Only 6 of the ships 70 life rafts were launched. The total capacity of the ships lifeboats and lift rafts was 6115, which is 125% of the maximum certificated numbers of person on board. This consisted of 3720 persons in lifeboat and 2395 in lift rafts.
12 x 150 person lifeboats
1 x 60 person lifeboats
33 x 35 person life rafts
1 x 25 person lift raft
12 x 150 person lifeboats
1 x 60 person lifeboats
34 x 35 person life rafts
1 x 25 person lift raft
The first lifeboats seemed to have been launched very quickly. Ten minutes after the abandon ship order was given an Italian Coast Guard vessel reported seeing lifeboats full of passengers heading towards the island. However, it became more difficult to launch the remaining lifeboats as the angle of heel increased. There are stories of the crew trying to push the lifeboats away from the ship’s hull as they became struck while being lowered, threating to tip the passengers out.
The IMO Life Saving Appliances (LSA) Code 126.96.36.199 states: “Every passenger ship lifeboat shall be so arranged that it can be boarded by its full complement of persons in not more than 10 minutes from the time the instruction to board is given.” In a real emergency situation on a cruise ship lifeboat many people believe that embarkation would take longer than the design ideal of 10 minutes. A typical cruise contains a fair portion of passengers with impaired mobility and families with young children (/lifeboat-embarkation.html). Clearly many passengers were ready to board the lifeboats much earlier in the evacuation process but were prevented from doing so by the crew who were awaiting the captains abandon ship order. This delay would have contributed to the unrest reported by the passengers in the assembly areas. Hence there was speculation that some officers may have started organising an evacuation even before the captain gave his order.