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Yesterday evening I watched a program on the UK’s Channel 4 TV channel about the sinking of the Costa Concordia. I wasn’t expecting it to be especially good – I was expecting it to be full of overblown rhetoric and endlessly repeated video clips. The title didn’t encourage me to expect more: “Terror at Sea: the sinking of the Costa Concordia”.

I was surprised at how good it was. While there were a couple of talking heads – a returned Cunard captain and a marine expert – most of the program was consisted of interviews with (British) survivors, and passenger video footage. The interviewees – some passengers, some crew (mainly dancers and entertainment technicians) – were generally quietly spoken, and this made for a strong contrast with the dramatic events they were describing. The descriptions they gave, of misinformation and confusion, were chilling. I remember one of the dancers saying that, more than an hour after the impact, she and her colleagues were still sat in the crew corridor outside their cabins (there was light there), because they were still being told it was just a blackout and there was no problem.

In contrast to the quiet voices of the survivors were the videos taken by passengers. These started right from the beginning – there was even one being taken when the impact happened – and of course they continued from there. Some of these were extremely dramatic, and showed all too well the confusion that occurred. Above all, though, it’s the mis-information that’s portrayed. There’s a clip taken on deck 4 (the lifeboat deck) showing a woman – presumably a senior crew member – stood at the entrance to a lifeboat, still dressed in what looks like evening dress, holding a radio, and saying to the passengers who had already begun to assemble there “We have an announcement from our Captain … we kindly ask you to return to your cabins or if you prefer you can stay in the lounges… Once we’ve finished addressing the generator’s electrical problem everything will be fine… .. Everything’s under control” (!). I can’t help wondering if she knew, when she was saying this, how serious it really was. I would hope not: otherwise, she was lying. And of course, this was all in Italian, so non-Italian speakers would be suffering extra confusion.

Then there was the recording of a conversation between the local coastguard and the bridge:

CG: “Good evening Costa Concordia. Do you have any problems on board?”

Ship: “Yes, affirmative, we have a blackout on board, we are checking the situation”

CG: “We had a relative of a crew member call the police who said that during dinner everything fell on his head…”

Ship: “No, negative. We have a blackout and we are checking conditions on board.”

There’s no time given for this exchange, but surely the bridge must have known quite soon after the collision that the hull was breached below the waterline and was making water heavily?

The descriptions of the confusion in filling and launching the lifeboats is especially disturbing, and it brings home the fact that in anything other than perfect conditions (daylight, calm weather, ship on an even keel), launching lifeboats is itself a chancy and risky business. Looking at the numbers who jumped into the sea, or who were rescued off the ship by lifeboats returning for a second trip, or who unbelievably found themselves  on the starboard outer hull of the ship from where they had to climb a long down a rope ladder and into rescue boats from the islands, it’s clear that if Costa Concordia hadn’t been just a couple of hundred metres from land, the death toll would have been in the hundreds.

But the most dramatic section of the programme was the exchange between the coast guard commander and the captain. There have been a number of transcripts, but hearing it all the way through was very extraordinary. The coast guard was insisting that the captain should go back aboard to co-ordinate the rescue and evacuation from there: specifically, to tell the coast guard how many people were still on board and therefore needed rescuing, and how many of them were women and children. The captain’s responses were – well, not good; and I don’t think  there’s any evidence that he did re-board his vessel.

It was in the end an informative and dramatic programme. It’s available on-line: you can find it here,  although I’m afraid that non-UK readers may not be able to access the content.

One Response to “Costa Concordia sinking – Channel 4 programme, 31 January”

  1. Alicia says:

    I think the costa Concordia terror T sea was Really interesting becaus eit yells you loads of stuff

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