|Ray attending a lifeboat drill
Last Sunday night the Costa Concordia sank off the coast of the island of Giglio, enroute to Civitavecchia, a port I had visited many times working for Princess Cruises. I would like to say that in all my years at sea I never encountered a captain like Francesco Schettino. I considered all the captains kings of their ship, they were all very professional, attentive and if I have to admit it, a little bit scary.
While normally I am not one to comment on ship safety the lack of knowledge of some of the announcers made me feel I had to write this post. A newscaster was interviewing some passengers after they had made it back to safety in the US. They told him that when they realized that the ship was in trouble they were dressed in formal wear, an evening gown and high heels. Reasoning that this was not the proper attire for lifeboat travel, they returned to their cabins and changed their clothes.
The commentator congratulated them, "What clear thinking,"
NO, NO, NO, it was not clear thinking returning to their cabin. It was a horrible idea. It is never a good idea to return to your cabin when a ship is possibly sinking. There are just too many things that can go wrong, What if the ship is on fire? What if the electricity goes off? What if the ship tilts and you can't open the door to your cabin? When you hear any kind of alarm you should proceed to your muster station and if you don't know where it is then proceed to the highest open deck.
Even though international law states that a lifeboat drill has to be held at least 24 hours after a boat leaves port, every ship I ever worked on held an emergency drill as soon as the ship sailed. As a crew member I also attended many drills over the course of my career at sea. If you read my book Cruise Quarters - A Novel About Casinos and Cruise Ships, I talk about the 'how to board a lifeboat drills', 'how to locate a bomb drills', 'how to crawl out of your cabin in case of a fire drills', and even a drill about the proper way to jump off the side of a ship without breaking your neck!
The following story perfectly illustrates my point.
Ray had been working on a Greek ship for three months and was very familiar with his surroundings. One day while the ship was docked in Patras he went out to lunch with a friend. When they returned to the ship they discovered the engine room was on fire and the ship had been evacuated. After a few hours the fire had been put out but the ship was declared out of service for repairs. They allowed the crew to board so that they could collect their belongings.
There was no power or lights working on the ship. When Ray left the ships entrance and headed to his cabin, he became disoriented walking down the pitch black corridor. He found his cabin by counting the doors. Once inside he relied on the light from the porthole as he gathered his belongings, but leaving the his cabin he found it very difficult to find his way back to the gangway. His walk was further complicated by the debris that had been dropped in the hallway, by the other crew in their scramble to get off the ship.
Our main point is that even in this situation when the ship was stable and upright and there was no immediate danger or rush and no crowd of panicking passengers, finding his way around the bowels of the ship was no easy task - and he was a crew member. So imagine the problems a passenger would have in the middle of an emergency situation.
Although ships are very safe and safety is taken very seriously on a cruise ship accidents can still happen. We hope this helps you if you ever find yourself on a sinking ship.As an update to this article we are sorry to report that Sandor Feher the violinist on the Costa ship, helped children into their life-jackets and then left to return to his cabin to retrieve his violin and was never seen again.