At approximately 9:30 pm local time on Friday, January 13, the Costa Concordia struck an underwater rock formation off the west coast of Italy, tearing a 160-foot-long hole in the ship's hull. The vessel began taking on water and power outages spread throughout the ship.
Almost immediately, the vessel began to list, sending plates, glasses and other objects in the full dining rooms crashing to the floor. Alarms sounded and passengers were informed that there was an electrical problem that crew members were working to fix. It quickly became apparent to passengers and crew members that this was not merely an electrical problem, and those onboard began a frantic evacuation of the ship.
Some lifeboats were launched, but due to the severity of the ship's listing, it soon became impossible to launch more. Some passengers jumped from the ship into the cold water and swam to shore, while others clung to railings or other objects on the ship until the arrival of fishing boats and ferries that responded to the emergency. Some passengers were trapped in more precarious or isolated positions and were eventually hoisted aboard helicopters.
The ship continued to lean until it finally came to rest on its side, about half submerged, approximately 200 feet off the coast of the small island of Giglio, Italy.
There were more than 4200 passengers and crew onboard the Concordia and as of this writing, six are known to have lost their lives, dozens are confirmed injured and there is confusion as to the number still missing, with reports ranging from 16 to 29.
Firefighters and scuba divers began search and rescue operations early Saturday morning, and on Sunday morning -- more than 24 hours after the ship first hit the rocks -- two young South Koreans on their honeymoon were rescued from their cabin and a senior member of the ship's staff (see below) was rescued from the third deck.
The treacherous search-and-rescue operation has been suspended at least once due to worsening weather and concern that the ship could slip into much deeper water nearby, trapping rescuers onboard.
The Costa Concordia was built in 2006 at a cost of about 450 million euros (USD $569 million at current exchange rates). With 13 decks, the vessel towered 100 feet above the water and is nearly 1,000 feet long. It carried the very latest navigation and safety equipment, and the obvious question is, "How could this tragedy have happened?"
There are conflicting stories as to exactly what happened and why, but statements from both the cruise line and Italian government officials point to human error. An early Costa Cruises statement reports that "there may have been significant human error on the part of the ship's master, Captain Francesco Schettino, which resulted in these grave consequences."
The captain has been arrested and charged with manslaughter, shipwreck and abandoning ship.
Fortunately, the ship's black boxes contain the technical data and conversations from the bridge that should allow the facts to come out. It may take months to conduct the investigation but I will cover the findings in this newsletter as soon as they are released.
In the weeks ahead, news media will carry the personal accounts of fear and chaos from passengers and crew as they struggled to abandon ship. We will hear of the kindness of the people of Giglio, who opened their homes and schools and churches in the middle of the night to provide food and clothing and shelter to strangers dropped abruptly on their doorsteps.
There will be stories of heroism, including that of the ship's chief purser, Manrico Gianpetroni, who reportedly aided the escape of dozens of people before breaking his leg in a fall. He was found and rescued from deep inside the vessel nearly 36 hours after the ordeal began.
Cruise lines carried more than 15 million passengers in 2011. The industry is highly regulated and passenger safety is the number one concern of all cruise lines. Hopefully, as the cause of this tragedy becomes clear, new systems and procedures can be put into place to prevent an accident of this kind from ever happening again.
Our hearts and prayers go out to the dead and missing and injured, and to their families.
This letter I received from Vacations to Go....