New Scientist - One of Europe’s largest cruise ships, the Costa Concordia, carrying 4200 passengers and crew, suffered a fatal and spectacular accident on Saturday. The vessel was holed on rocks off the Italian island of Giglio – and then quickly keeled over, preventing lifeboats on its port side from being lowered and trapping some passengers and crew in the bowels of the ship. At 12:00 GMT today, six people had been confirmed dead and a further 15 were missing. So how stable and safe are these vertiginous floating multistorey hotels?
Why was this massive ship so close to shallow rock outcrops?
Mark Staunton-Lambert, technical director of the London-based Royal Institution of Naval Architects, says this is the main question investigators will want answering. GPS and sonar instruments should have warned of the danger, he says.
Why might the Costa Concordia’s depth-sounding sonar have been ignored?
Like aviation, seafaring is in the midst of major computerisation, with bridges in modern ships like Costa Concordia becoming “glass cockpits”. The transnational maritime trade union Nautilus International says that the technology at the heart of this – the Electronic Charts Display and Information System (ECDIS), which marries GPS and seabed sonar data in one screen – can be a problem. First, it says that the data on seabed obstacles can be out of date; second, the system generates too many alarms that can lead mariners to ignore them. “The ECDIS screens are only as good as the data that goes into them,” says Nautilus spokesman Andrew Limington. “And there are major problems with their user interfaces and ergonomics.” More