Costa Concordia Investigation Update Recommends Solas Changes

Italy has given an update on its technical investigation into the grounding of Costa Concordia and its preliminary recommendations include amending the Safety of Life at Sea Convention.

The Italian Maritime Investigation Authority presented its initial findings at the International Maritime Organization’s 91st Maritime Safety Committee yesterday. It is six months exactly since Italy reported to the MSC in May. However, the authority said the situation had changed.

At the first presentation, the spokeswoman for the investigation said it could only provide an overview of initial stages of activity as the investigating prosecutors had seized key documents and data necessary for the technical investigation.

The administrative, criminal and technical investigations continue but the spokeswoman said there was a new important element to report.

On October 15, the first criminal hearing took place and this meant that the data retrieved from the voyage data recorder and other relevant documents seized by prosecutors was disclosed for the first time.

The data is still under scrutiny, but the authority has made some preliminary recommendations based on three main areas: navigation, safety management and stability.

The inquiry concerning the navigational phase focuses on what happened before the impact and in particular the behaviour of the master and his decision to take the vessel so close to the shoreline.

The investigation simulated the last navigation phase using Carnival’s cruise simulator training centre C-Smart in Almere, considered the manoeuvring before impact and the ship’s behaviour after the event. It reconstructed the action using witness statements, the survey report and video data.

The authority showed the simulation at the IMO to demonstrate how close Costa Concordia sailed to the shoreline. The only change made was to simulate the action in daytime so that the coastline could be more visible.

The spokeswoman said: “The reconstruction allows analysis of evidence from the critical point for navigation and the preliminary factors which contributed to the accident. First of all, the shifting from a perpendicular to a parallel course extremely close to the coast.

“A second critical point is that the reference point for starting turning was not the most external landmark, instead the ship proceeded to sail southward towards the inner coastline. Another critical point is the high speed at night so close to the shoreline.”

The spokeswoman also highlighted the inappropriate use of cartography, as the ship was using chart no 6 instead of chart 122.

The master’s inattention due to people present who were extraneous to the bridge watch and to making a phone call not related to operations also contributed to the accident, the Italian body said.

The simulation also showed that the master’s orders to the helmsman aimed to ensure that the compass course was followed rather than the rudder angle.

Finally, the investigation highlighted the attitude of the bridge team. “Although the staff were more than suitable in terms of number, they were not paying the due attention to steering and the ship position,” the spokeswoman said.

On the subject of safety management, the spokeswoman said the alarm on Costa Concordia was not immediately activated after the impact and this delayed the management of the emergency phases and abandon-ship procedure.

“An analysis of the crew certification, muster list, training and certification highlights some inconsistencies in the assignment of duties to some members of crew,” she said.

“The lack of direct orders from the bridge to the crew on safety issues hindered an efficient management of the general emergency abandon ship phase. The existence of different backgrounds and training of crew without complete co-ordination hindered operational management.”

Although Italy noted that these issues were well regulated by Solas, the spokeswoman added that regulation regarding safe manning and muster lists could be reconsidered.

On the subject of muster lists, she explained that investigations carried out by the Italian coastguard on more than 50 cruiseships flying different flags found that muster lists are often confused with the minimum safe manning document.

On the issue of stability, the spokeswoman said a combination of factors caused immediate and irreversible flooding of the ship beyond any manageable level.

She said the flooding of the compartments was caused by the gash in the hull.

“It is now possible to provide exact measurements. The gash was 53 m from frame 52-125 with a variable width up to 7.3 m. Watertight compartments five and six flooded in a very short time after collision and represent already a limit condition for giving the abandon-ship order allowing for a safe evacuation,” she said.

A stability simulation was also conducted by Safety at Sea Company in Glasgow, using all the information available, especially VDR.

“It was found that a critical factor caused by the flooding was the immediate loss of propulsion and general services located in watertight compartments five and six. One of the consequences was that the high-capacity seawater service pumps were unavailable as they could only be supplied by the main switchboard.”

The investigation also noted that the lack of a wireless telecom system could be considered a factor in delaying the exchanges between key persons during the emergency.

Although the spokeswoman said the flooding of watertight compartments where most of the vital equipment was stored made the casualty unique, it also demonstrated the validity of some amendments to Solas setting further requirements for newbuildings or existing ships, such as requirements for segregating vital equipment.

She said: “Improvements can be seen in conjunction with the Safe Return to Port requirements, such as: providing double skin to protect the watertight compartments containing equipment vital for the propulsion of the ship; more partitioning and sub-partitioning of the watertight compartments to limit the effect of flooding; discontinuity between the compartments containing the ship’s essential systems; more detailed criteria for distribution of bilge pumps along the length of the ship and possible arrangement of at least one high capacity pump to drain large quantities of water from an isolated compartment.”

Italy has recommended central systems for the emergency diesel generator in cases of emergency such as redundancy of steering to counteract flooding and heeling.

It also said it should be possible to supply the bow thrusters to maintain the bow at sea even with loss of propulsion and main steering failure.

A programme of tests simulating the emergency conditions took place on November 16 and 17. The results are under evaluation and will help to verify and better understand the emergency diesel generator and related switchboard.

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