When Costa Concordia was grounded in January, the cruise industry was quick to take a good hard look at their day-to-day operations. As they should have. If the death of 32 passengers was not tragic enough, the future of the cruise industry might very well have hung in the balance had they not. Showing a level of transparency guarded only by legalities that might have come back to bite them later, Costa Cruises and parent Carnival Corporation, were quick to release details and keep the world informed. But a recent report suggests that some critical information might have been held back.
According to a report in The Sydney Morning Herald, the “black box” data recorder on Costa Concordia had been malfunctioning and was scheduled to be repaired on January 14, the day after the ship’s grounding. But on several occasions throughout the days and weeks that followed, the black box data was referred to as a forensic information source that could give clarity as to exactly how the grounding took place.
According to the report, Pierfrancesco Ferro, the director of technical services for the company that owns the vessel, Costa Crociere, on January 11 had requested repair work to be done to the Costa Concordia’s black box.
The repair work was to have been carried out on January 14, when the ship had been scheduled to reach the north-western Italian port of Savona.
In an email message sent to the company responsible for the repair work, Ferro complained that the black box – a device used to record data including navigation commands – was malfunctioning for the “umpteenth” time.”
Costa disputes this account, saying that while the black box had registered an “error code” this “absolutely does not mean that the device was not working.”
Just after the grounding, the world of cruise vacations waited for black box and other forensic evidence that was hoped paint a clear picture of exactly what happened. In the absence of bona fide conclusions drawn by a neutral third-party, press accounts ran the gambit. Some were fair and unbiased reports giving credit to established facts and past behavioral patterns. Others were super market check-out, sensational yarns woven from suspicions and public opinion that intentionally tap our emotions.
Still, within that initial whirlwind of reports, a timely Costa press release gave no hint of a malfunctioning black box
“Our immediate priority is to account for all passengers and crew, and to secure the vessel to ensure that there are no environmental impacts. We have engaged the services of a top specialized salvage company to develop an action plan and help establish a protection perimeter around the ship. It should be noted that the Prosecutor has seized the ship and the DVR — the so-called “black box” containing all navigation data — and the vessel can be accessed by Costa only with permission from the authorities.”
Early on, without the black box evidence, much was still unknown but audio tapes and first-hand accounts seemed to indicate that the rouge captain Francesco Schettino was on a joyride with the lives of thousands of people and hundreds of millions of dollars worth of cruise ship.
Indeed, when what were called “the first black box recordings” were released, they revealed that the Italian coast guard had to threaten Schettino to go back to his crippled cruise ship to oversee its evacuation. Schettino, still under house arrest, faces charges of manslaughter, causing a shipwreck and abandoning ship before all the passengers and crew had been evacuated.