Update: The chart purporting to show the ship’s track below may not be accurate – the BBC has a different track for the ship, my follow up posted 18 Jan….
Last week I claimed expertise in counter-piracy. This week I’m back with another one of my particular areas of expertise – Navigation. I was Navigator on a US warship until the middle of last year, so I do know a thing or two about reading charts, plotting a track and keeping the bottom of the ship wet. I still wake up every couple months with a dream where my ship is headed for land and no one on the bridge will listen to me.
The Costa Concordia wrecked off the Italian coast last week, with stunning video and photos that will become the stuff of nightmares for navigators and Captains everywhere. If you want a better idea of what happened, here’s two pieces of media that you probably haven’t seen that will help give you an idea of the geography involved.
First, some context. The Concordia was pulling out of Civitavecchia, the commercial port of Rome, and was headed generally northwest to pass near the island of Giglio on it’s way counter-clockwise around the Western Mediterranean.
AIS (Automated Identification System) is a GPS-based tracking system used around the world – any ship over a certain size is required to have a transponder that constantly broadcasts the ship’s position, course, speed, etc. in real time. It helps with traffic management and collision avoidance. Anyone can tune into it with the right equipment, and someone posted this feed, showing the Costa Concordia’s track:
(Note – this feed is from someone else’s display – it doesn’t neccesarily represent whatever AIS and Navigation systems the Concorida was using).
What that video doesn’t show is the tight space the ship was trying to fit in – the rock that the Concordia hit is too small to show up on the very large-scale view of that video. This nautical chart shows the narrow gap the ship was trying to navigate – the small numbers are depths in meters, and blue-water typically denotes shoal-water, otherwise known as don’t-come-here-if-you’re-a-big-ship water:
Again, that is a reconstruction by someone else, not the “official” track of the Concordia, though AIS tends to be pretty good, so I would not expect the official investigation to differ too much in their findings. For those inclined to read charts, that’s clearly a reckless move – the gap itself is barely wide enough for the ship to pass through even if steered perfectly.
Lastly, there’s an interesting transcript of the conversation between the Captain and the Italian Coast Guard, with the Captain essentially being ordered to return to the ship to help supervise rescue efforts. Tie all of that in with reports of the crew being unprepared for the chaos of the evacuation and you have quite the soup sandwich.