As I write we are but two weeks shy of the 101st anniversary of the sinking of the RMS Titanic in the North Atlantic on April 15, 1912. Naturally the date won't get the attention that the 100 year anniversary did, but it’s worthy of note.
While last year events included an opening of a massive Titanic exhibit in Belfast, on the pier where the ship was built, and the first news that Aussie billionaire Clive Palmer will build a virtual replica of the ship, to be completed in 2016 and to regularly take passengers from the U.K. to New York, this year there are fewer celebrations and fewer news stories.
Meanwhile, with the passage of this last year more information has come to light regarding another giant maritime disaster, the sinking, or listing over, of the Italian cruise ship, the Costa Concordia. That tragedy saw 32 passengers and crew die while 1,517 perished when the Titanic went down. The numbers may not compare but something that does is the hubris of the ships’ captains.
Schettino charge with abandoning ship
Since April of last year there have been preliminary hearings in the case of Francesco Schettino, the captain of the Concordia, that determined there is sufficient evidence to go ahead with the case Italian prosecutors have brought against him. Schettino will go on trial for manslaughter, causing a shipwreck and abandoning ship.
Of course the Titanic's captain, E.J. Smith, went down with his ship so whether he may have been charged with crimes relating to the Titanic’s fate can never be known. But while I cannot say with any certainty that Smith was guilty of a crime, there is a strong case that a failure on the part of each man can be attributed to all that loss of life.
The sinking of the RMS Titanic
The iceberg situation in the North Atlantic in April of 1912 was the worst it had been in 50 years. Higher temperatures caused ice to break away from the west coast of Greenland and the area the Titanic was traveling through on the only voyage she would ever undertake was strewn with icebergs. Smith was made aware of that by other ships in the region.
He ordered his ship to travel at a speed close to maximum capability, though there remains dispute as to why. Some say it was on orders from the president of White Star liner, Bruce Ismay, looking to achieve a record crossing time. They also say an experienced captain should have known better than to risk his ship. However, no research has proven exactly why Smith gave orders for a rate of speed that, given the unusually large amount of icebergs, was unsafe.
Many ships had already struck icebergs that spring and yet Smith did not bring the speed of the RMS Titanic down. His response to the danger? To put her crew on alert for icebergs. Captain Smith foolishly felt they could avoid them and his hubris kept him from considering that he was playing with thousands of lives.
The sinking of the Costa Concordia
We have not had all those years to view the tragedy of the Costa Concordia from but already it is clear the ship was far too close to shore. A statement from Pier Luigi Foschi, the chairman and chief executive of Costa Cruises, puts the blame squarely on the shoulders of Schettino.
"This route was put in correctly," the statement reads. "The fact that it left from this course is due solely to a maneuver by the commander that was unapproved, unauthorized and unknown to Costa. He wanted to show the ship, to (go) nearby this island of Giglio, so he decided to change the course of the ship to go closer to the island."
Schettino claims it was Costa Cruises fault, but the audio taken from the bridge that night indicates that the captain alone ordered the ship too close to the shore. He took the Costa Concordia to a rocky area he did not have information on and it hit a reef. Evidence suggests that Schettino did so, at least in part, to please his chief steward, a native of Giglio.
Smith and Schettino: Captains linked in infamy
There no reason to blame bad luck or weather in either cases; in the more recent case there were no weather issues and in the case of the Titanic, they were well documented. And there’s no evidence to support blaming the equipment on either of these state-of-the-art vessels.
Yes, standards of the day were such that the rate of speed the Titanic traveled at was considered safe, but given the almost unprecedented amount of icebergs, Smith should have exercised greater caution. Yes, 'salutes,' to shore might be part of protocol for passenger liners in Costa Cruises but never without authorization and never so close as Schettino took his ship to Giglio.
One of these disasters happened a year and four months ago, the other now 101 years ago. Neither needed to happen and each is a clear case of a ship’s captain letting her down.
This opinion article was written by an independent writer. The opinions and views expressed herein are those of the author and are not necessarily intended to reflect those of DigitalJournal.com