Wednesday 20 November 2019

Cruise ship Costa Concordia crew 'were not drilled in evacuation procedures'

The grounded cruise ship Costa Concordia off the Tuscan island of Giglio.
The grounded cruise ship Costa Concordia off the Tuscan island of Giglio.
Francesco Schettino, the captain of the Costa Concordia cruise ship which ran aground in January off the coast of Italy, killing more than 30 people (AP Photo/Mediaset, HOEP)
The cruise ship Costa Concordia lies on its side off the Tuscan island of Giglio, Italy (AP)

CREW members aboard the Costa Concordia cruise ship were not properly drilled in evacuation procedures and could not even understand basic Italian, leaked evidence showed on Thursday.

Staff of many different nationalities struggled to communicate with each other before and after the giant cruise liner slammed into a rocky shoal off the island of Giglio, according to an exhaustive report compiled by a panel of maritime experts.

Although the common language on the ship was meant to be Italian, a radio officer who was trying to organise the lowering of life boats had to resort to English to communicate with a group of crewmen from South America, the report found.

"Not all the crew were able to understand the emergency instructions, which were in Italian," the experts said.

In what one Italian newspaper called "a Babel at sea", a Bulgarian first officer struggled to understand Italian, while an Indonesian helmsman twice failed to understand orders given by Capt Francesco Schettino as the Concordia approached Giglio to perform a "sail-past" that ultimately proved disastrous.

The captain, who faces charges of manslaughter and abandoning ship, allegedly told him to pay closer attention and cracked a joke in English: "Otherwise we go on the rocks."

Minutes later, the 1,000ft-long liner ploughed into the reef, in a disaster which eventually claimed the lives of 32 people.

Recordings of conversations between officers on the bridge, taken from the ship's "black box" or voyage data recorder, show that Capt Schettino sometimes did not even speak in standard Italian, but resorted to thick Neapolitan dialect.

"Some members of the crew with key responsibilities did not know their duties in case of an emergency," the expert panel said in their report, which was presented to an investigating magistrate in Grosseto, Tuscany, this week.

Some of the officers in charge of the lifeboats either did not possess the correct safety certification or their certificates had expired.

According to excerpts of the investigation obtained by the Italian press, the report accuses Capt Schettino of abandoning the ship at around 11.30pm on the night of Jan 13 – 3 hrs and 15 minutes before the last passengers managed to reach dry land.

He has claimed that he "tripped" accidentally into a lifeboat and then supervised the evacuation from the shore.

The experts also accused Costa Cruises, the Italian company that owns the Concordia, of not being in control of the unfolding emergency, "despite having received all the necessary information from on board".

The report said Costa Cruises delayed telling the Italian coast guard of the true extent of the disaster. Meanwhile a worried Capt Schettino asked a company official: "What shall I say to the press?"

In a statement, Costa Cruises denied trying to keep the maritime authorities in the dark and blamed any lack of communication on the captain, saying he provided information that was "not timely, partial and confused".

That meant the company was unable to ascertain "a clear perception of the seriousness of what was actually happening".

The Genoa-based cruise company also said that the claim that crew members were not properly trained was "without foundation".

The experts' report will be analysed at the next pretrial hearing in the case, in Grosseto on Oct 15.

By Nick Squires

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