Saturday, January 14, 2012

Telling left from right

Already the comparisons are being made with the Titanic, as the Costa Concordia runs aground off the island of Giglio, on the Tuscan coast. Such comparisons are inevitable, as this is the hundredth anniversary of the Titanic sinking, it having collided with an iceberg on 14 April 1912.

The similarities, however, are only slight – particularly in terms of the casualty rate - although both ships sustained underwater damage to the beam. The Titanic suffered a gash of nearly 300 ft on the starboard side, but the damage to the Costa Concordia is reported to be more modest, on the port side.

This latter intelligence seems to be based on a report by Coast Guard Commander Francesco Paolillo, who says the vessel "hit an obstacle" - it wasn't clear if it might have hit a rocky reef in the waters off Giglio - "ripping a gash 50 meters (160 feet) across" on the left side of the ship, and started taking on water.

True to form, the Mail then religiously captions a picture (above), informing us that: "About half of the vessel on the left-hand side is underwater". The picture, however, shows the vessel with a substantial part of the starboard side submerged. Associated Press gets it right though. Unhappily, it reports 69 people missing.

Confusion in this case is understandable, especially as a Reuters photographs (immediately above and below), shows the damage to the exposed, seaward side.

Counter-intuitively, the vessel has listed to starboard – the opposite side of the damage, which says little for the integrity of the ship and the effectiveness of watertight bulkheads (unless there is additional, hidden damage). After the Titanic, one always assumed that design changes in ships meant this could not happen.

Thus, we are going to hear more of this episode – and you can be assured that it is only a matter of time before the EU is on the act, with proposals from improving the safety of cruise liners. The "colleagues" are not known for letting benefical crises go to waste.