The cruise ship Costa Concordia lies partially sunk just a few hundred yards from the rocky coast of the Italian island of Giglio on Monday. Though the fallout from the disaster remains unclear, past luxury liner accidents—the Titanic shipwreck being the most infamous—have sparked new measures for keeping passengers safe and dry.
The Costa Cruises-run ship’s hull was ripped after the liner ran aground Friday. Capt. Francesco Schettino had steered the 126,000-ton vessel dangerously close to shore, purportedly to salute people on the island.
Eleven people are confirmed dead from the accident, and 23 people are still missing. Accused of manslaughter, causing a shipwreck, and abandoning ship, Schettino is now under house arrest.
Cruise historian John Maxtone-Graham said the decision by the Costa Concordia‘s captain to leave the sinking ship early was shameful.
“He wasn’t the last man off,” he said. “That is horrendous behavior. He’s obviously a man of very lax principles and he’ll never be on the bridge again.”
PHOTOGRAPH FROM GAMMA-RAPHO VIA GETTY IMAGES
2) R.M.S. TITANIC
“Rusticles” coat the railing of the sunken R.M.S. Titanic (file picture), which sank in the North Atlantic during the ship’s maiden voyage from Southampton, U.K., to New York City on April 15, 1912.
More than 1,500 people died in the disaster, largely because the White Star cruise line outfitted the ship with only enough lifeboats for about half the people aboard.
To make matters worse, no lifeboat drill involving passengers was performed before the Titanic set out, and many of the oars in the available lifeboats were so new that they were still tied with twine.
“When people got in the boat that night, some of them had a hard time getting the oars rigged,” said Maxtone-Graham.
As a result of the Titanic disaster, modern cruise liners now must carry enough lifeboats for all of the passengers on board.
The Star Princess fire, begun on a private balcony, was likely the victim of a cigarette burn gone very wrong. “The rubber matting that covered the balconies was fabricated from crude oil, and it was flammable,” Maxtone-Graham said.
“What was amazing was that the fire spread the length of the deck, jumped from balcony to balcony, and then up two more decks.”
The fire was eventually put out, and the Star Princess was repaired. The ship now has sprinklers on all of its balconies—and the UN’s International Maritime Organization has since adopted a new code requiring more fire-resistant cabin balconies.
PHOTOGRAPH FROM REUTERS TV
4) S.S. MORRO CASTLE
A barge sprays tons of water to douse the S.S. Morro Castle cruise ship after it caught fire in the early morning hours of September 8, 1934.
A coastal cruiser, the Morro Castle was sailing from New York City to Havana, Cuba, when it caught fire. The ship eventually made it to Asbury Park, New Jersey, where the vessel was beached.
In a scene eerily like the Costa Concordia accident, the Morro Castle “was a wreck in plain sight from shore,” Maxtone-Graham said.
The cause of the fire is unclear, but most experts agree that lax crew discipline was partly to blame.
“Some said she caught fire because of unhappy or vengeful crewmen,” Maxtone-Graham said. “There was a story—and I can’t say this was true—that there was a fire in a wastebasket and a crewman put it in a closet, shut the door, and went about his business.”
As a result of the Morro Castle disaster, cruise companies later placed a higher emphasis on crew discipline, he added.
In addition, the International Maritime Organization adopted standards encouraging noncombustible materials in ship construction.
All of the Explorer’s 154 passengers and crew survived, but the accident caused several international shipping and cruise organizations to take a closer look at their rules and guidelines governing Antarctic voyages. (See video on the Antarctic Ocean.)
For example, the United Nations’ International Maritime Organization (IMO) accelerated discussions that are intended to lead to the development of a comprehensive “Polar Code” that would govern everything from the type of equipment ships can carry, the types of hulls they can have, the experience levels of the people on their bridges, and more.
“There are IMO guidelines for passenger ships in ice-covered waters currently in place, but they’re just that—guidelines,” said Steve Wellmeier, the executive director of the International Association of Antarctica Tour Operators.
“Since the Explorer sinking, there’s been a greater urgency to beef up the Polar Code and to make parts of it mandatory.”
Corrected January 20: Previous version suggested that the Explorer accident had led to restrictions on passenger numbers and prohibitions on certain fuel types.
PHOTOGRAPH FROM CHILEAN NAVY/REUTERS
R.M.S. EMPRESS OF IRELAND
The R.M.S. Empress of Ireland sinks in the St. Lawrence River near Quebec City, Canada, in 1914.
While sailing out of the port of Montreal on the foggy morning of May 29, 1914, the ocean liner was struck amidships by a Norwegian ship, the S.S. Storstad. The Empress sank very quickly and claimed 1,012 lives.
“The boat turned over on its port side and went to the bottom like a stone,” Maxtone-Graham said.
According to Maxtone-Graham, the Empress‘s primary weakness, and the reason it sank so fast, was bad compartmentalization. That is, the design of the ship’s rooms and compartments were not built with barriers to prevent widespread flooding in the case of a hull breach.
The Storstad “just happened to hit between two watertight compartments and admitted water to both sides,” Maxtone-Graham said.
In large part because of the Empress accident, engineers paid more attention to compartmentalization in the construction of later ships.