17 passengers have been confirmed dead and 15 remain missing after the Italian cruise ship Costa Concordia struck rocks off the coast of the Tuscan island of Giglio on the evening of January 13. According to Reuters, the Concordia is the largest passenger ship ever wrecked. The owners of the vessel claimed that the accident occurred because the ship's captain deviated from the chartered course in order to salute a number of people on the island. According to Costa Cruises chief executive Pier Luigi Foschi, company vessels are prohibited from coming within 500 metres of the Giglio coast, and Captain Francesco Schettino’s decision to proceed beyond these boundaries was a “reckless display of bravado”.

Recorded ship-to-shore radio communications between Captian Schettino and the Giglio coastguard in the aftermath of the collision revealed that the captain did not remain aboard the vessel to coordinate the evacuation despite instructions from the coastguard to do so. Schettino was repeatedly unsuccessfully ordered by the coastguard to go back onboard and coordinate the evacuation.

Emergency Evacuation Coordination

The Costa Concordia disaster highlights some interesting issues about reckless behaviour and emergency coordination. Apart from being a very good example of the seriousness of alleged reckless behaviour at sea, whether on sea or on land, all public venues must have a thorough, well-rehearsed and well coordinated emergency plan. In the heat of an emergency, there are many ‘links in the chain’ that could fail. It is imperative that those responsible for ensuring the safety and welfare of people in their care are equipped and well prepared for exercising their duties to the fullest degree in an emergency.

Incident Implications

The implications of the Concordia shipwreck for Costa Cruises and the cruise industry as a whole are likely to be significant. The incident placed Costa Cruises’ brand image and reputation at serious risk as it exposed a potential flaw in its emergency safety systems.

In an attempt to restore customers’ confidence, Costa Cruises has released the following statement: “Costa is committed to ensuring that no such incident ever occurs again. Our number one priority is always the safety and security of our guests and crew and we comply with all safety regulations.”

It is possible that at least in the short term, the cruise liner industry will suffer some collateral damage as a result of this incident, with some major cruising carriers already reporting notable reductions in forward bookings after the incident.