CRUISING TO DEATH
January 16,2012 - Photos of the crippled cruise
ship Costa Concordia on its side reminded me of a
morning a few years ago when I stood at a window of the
Doge's Palace on San Mark's watching a seven storey
tall cruise ship slither past. The gigantic vessel was so
close we could see the faces of the passengers on deck
frantically filming and photographing.
Next to me an elderly professor shook his
head. 'There goes an ecological catastrophe in-the-
making,' he sighed. Then he went back to the podium to
chair a U.N. seminar on environmental perils.
The tragedy of the Costa Concordia has been as much in-the- making as the probability that one of the average eight giant
cruise ships that pass through the center of Venice every day from April to November will eventually ram into what is the
world's most delicate urban habitat.
Greed prompts ship owners to offer more daring and more spectacular voyages for their customers like the
promise to view Venice at sunrise from the decks, a major promotional asset. In Venice itself the greed of merchants and
port workers accepts the dangers and the damage the cruise ships cause when their passing churns up the lagoon's sea
floor and diesel fumes (from running generators around the clock while the vessel is moored) have given Venice, a city
without traffic, a higher pollution emission than its traffic jammed neighbor cities.
Greed to cut costs by selecting a shorter route prompted the captain of the Italian container vessel Rena to cut
through and founder on New Zealand's Astrolobe Reef spilling its oil on protected marine life and vegetation. And it was
greed and the promise of a bonus perhaps that prompted the captain of a Chinese oil tanker to seek a short route home
through Australia's pristine Great Barrier Reef. He ran into rocks and spilled his cargo of oil across a maritime reserve
marked world heritage and banned to all commercial shipping.
Laws of the Sea are still vague and once offshore, maritime vessels have entered a lawless void so
complicated even pirates are often returned to their home countries rather then lose their custody to
expensive haggling over nebulous sea regulations. A vessel's ownership and country of registration can be
hidden in a mishmash of documents, a series of holding companies and countries like Liberia, Panama and
some of the Caribbean nations that offer advantageous minimal tax registration deals. Crews are recruited for
little money from poor nations with training certificates often faked or purchased on the black market, one
reason why crews often have no idea how to react in an emergency.
The Costa Concordia tragedy falls into the category of attracting customers. The cruise ship went far too close
to Giglio, an island jewel off the Italian coast, perhaps as a dare, perhaps to give its passengers a chance to wave to the
islanders. A rock spur opened the Costa Concordia like a can opener. Four thousand people were shipwrecked, some died
some were injured. And not even the most sophisticated technology could prevent the disaster because computers, after all,
simply follow human orders.
The excuse the rock was not chartered sounds silly given the boast the vessel had the most sophisticated
technology aboard and was virtually unsinkable.
Wasn't there a similar claim before the Titanic sank?