The New York Times
January 16, 2012
Cruise Ship Owners Blame Human Error as Death Toll Rises
By GAIA PIANIGIANI and ALAN COWELL
GIGLIO, Italy — The owners of a $450 million cruise ship that ran aground and capsized near an Italian island, killing at least six people, blamed human error by its commander, saying on Monday that he made an “unapproved, unauthorized maneuver” to divert from its programmed course.
The company had earlier suggested that the 52-year-old skipper, Francesco Schettino, may have taken the ship, the Costa Concordia, and its complement of 4,200 passengers and crew, including 120 Americans, too close to the rocky shoreline. News photographs on Monday showed the vessel half-submerged and canted over at an extreme angle with its funnel jutting out over the Mediterranean waters, almost within touching distance of Giglio’s port.
Rescue efforts were suspended indefinitely on Monday after the stricken cruise liner slipped on its rocky resting place and settled farther into the water, according to the firefighters heading the operation. At least 15 people, including two Americans, were still missing.
“We still hope to find somebody alive,” said Sergio Ortelli, the mayor of Giglio, walking up and down the dock on Monday morning. “But the more time passes by, the less hope we have.”
At a news conference in the Italian port of Genoa on Monday, cited in news reports, Pier Luigi Foschi, the chairman and chief executive of Costa Cruises, said the company “will be close to the captain and will provide him with all the necessary assistance, but we need to acknowledge the facts and we cannot deny human error.”
Mr. Foschi also said the vessel was carrying 2,300 tons of fuel but there were no signs of leakage so far.
He said the company’s ships were fitted with alarms that sounded when they deviated from preprogrammed courses. “This route was put in correctly. 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 said.
On Sunday, the company said Captain Schettino, of Naples, Italy, may have caused the crash by taking the ship too close to Giglio, an island off the coast of Tuscany and the Argentario peninsula.
The Italian police detained Captain Schettino for questioning on charges of manslaughter, failure to offer assistance and abandonment of the ship.
With its shares falling by almost 16 percent in London on Monday, Carnival Corp., the owner of Costa Cruises and the world’s biggest cruise operator, said the incident would cost at least $95 million and probably result in additional costs that could not yet be determined.
“At this time, our priority is the safety of our passengers and crew,” Micky Arison, Carnival’s chairman and chief executive, said in a statement. “We are deeply saddened by this tragic event, and our hearts go out to everyone affected by the grounding of the Costa Concordia and especially to the families and loved ones of those who lost their lives.”
The ship grounding came just as the luxury cruise industry’s busiest time of year was getting under way, and travel agents expressed fear that it would lead to a big drop in bookings. Roughly one-third of all cruise vacations are arranged in the January-March quarter.
In service since 2006, the Costa Concordia, which cost $450 million when new, was promoted by the cruise line as one of its biggest and most modern luxury vessels, with year-round sailings, 1,500 cabins, swimming pools with retractable glass roofs and a range of pricing options, primarily targeting passengers from Europe.
The ship was constructed by Fincantieri Cantieri Navali Italiani SpA, a leading shipbuilder based in the northeast port of Trieste. Fincantieri is building another ship for Costa, the Costa Fascinosa, at a cost of roughly $700 million, scheduled to go into service in May.
On Sunday, rescue workers searched the luxury liner for survivors and found three, including a couple on their honeymoon who was found inside a cabin, said Luca Cari, a spokesman for the Italian fire brigade that rescued them.
Later, rescuers evacuated the ship’s purser by helicopter, hoisting him strapped to a stretcher. The purser, Manrico Giampedroni, 57, from the northwestern region of Liguria, had a broken leg.
Rescuers searching the vessel found the body of a man in a corridor, The Associated Press reported on Monday. On Sunday, divers found the bodies of two elderly men, one from Spain and one from Italy, both wearing life jackets, said Cmdr. Cosimo Nicastro, a coast guard spokesman. The discoveries brought the confirmed death toll to six.
On Sunday, Costa Cruises issued a statement saying that “there may have been significant human error” by Captain Schettino that caused the ship to run aground on a rocky outcropping near this resort island on Friday.
“The route of the vessel appears to have been too close to the shore, and in handling the emergency, the captain appears not to have followed standard Costa procedures,” the statement said.
The statement appeared to diverge from the company’s comments on Saturday when it said that the Costa Concordia had followed the normal course it follows “52 times a year.” The company had also commended Captain Schettino, saying he “immediately understood the severity of the situation” and “initiated security procedures to prepare for an eventual ship evacuation.”