MM&P instructor: Korean ferry sinking similar to Titanic, Costa Concordia


The following is the text of a news release from World Satellite Television News:

(LINTHICUM HEIGHTS, Md.) (April 16) — The deadly sinking of a South Korean passenger-motor ferry may have likely been caused by the ship’s captain altering his normal course and increasing speed in an effort to remain on schedule following a fog-related delay, according to Capt. Jim Staples, one of the world’s foremost maritime training experts, who appeared Wednesday night on CNN’s AC 360, hosted by Anderson Cooper.
Staples is a 35-year veteran deep ocean master ship captain who teaches an array of courses at the International Organization of Masters, Mates and Pilots’ Maritime Institute of Technology in suburban Baltimore. He president of Boston’s OceanRivers LLC maritime consulting.
“Reports that the ferry captain announced to passengers, ‘don’t move,’ as the ship was sinking, is puzzling,” says Staples. “The captain was supposed to calmly instruct passengers to put on life vests and move toward the life rafts, where the crew would have instructed them on an orderly escape. This eerily similar to the mistakes made by the captains and crew of the Titanic and Costa Concordia which delayed sounding the alarm to abandon ship.”
Staples emphasizes, “The ferry incident underscores the need for more maritime training and safety and maintenance regulations worldwide. Initial reports indicate that none of the ferry’s life rafts were deployed and that emergency-release windows could not be opened. Again, the issue of lifeboats is hauntingly similar to what happened on Titanic and Concordia.”
MM&P is the world’s pre-eminent professional merchant mariners’ organization. Among its members is Capt. Richard Phillips — namesake of the Academy Award-nominated high seas piracy movie drama starring actor Tom Hanks. Staples and Phillips were Massachusetts Maritime Academy classmates.
MM&P men and women officer-members are graduates of the nation’s seven state-run and federally-operated collegiate maritime academies who command cargo vessels, barges, tankers, tugs and U.S. Military Sealift Command ships around the globe. They have among the highest safety records in the maritime industry.

“The South Korean ferry incident came one day after the 102nd observance of the Titanic disaster and in the wake of a series of recent passenger ship marine mishaps.” Staples continues., “What happened in South Korea is eerily similar to the Costa Concordia capsizing — in both cases, the ships’ captains strayed off course, hitting rocks — the only objects in the oceans, aside from icebergs and debris, that can rip open the hulls,”
Staples explains, “Increasing speed is the reason why Titanic collided with an iceberg. The captain and White Star Lines’ executives, seeking to make news headline by arriving in New York ahead of schedule, pushed the engines shrinking the time that lookouts had to spot icebergs in the North Atlantic.”

Staples points out, “Most long voyage ferry boats worldwide typically conduct life boat (drills); short hauls usually include safety announcements, but, in many cases, vehicles are not chained to the deck — making them moving objects in the event of a disaster.”

Staples, who teaches navigation courses on MM&P’s technologically-advanced command bridge simulator, says training is key to prevention. “American merchant mariners, who are all licensed, documented and vetted by the United States Coast Guard, are taught that adhering to schedules is secondary to staying on course and prioritizing safety.”

“We keep seeing the same serious problems repeated on passenger ships and little is being done to prevent them from happening again — opposed to the global outrage following the Titanic disaster, which resulted in multi-national maritime mandates regarding safety inspections, adequate lifeboats for all people aboard ships, life boat drills, 24-hour radio operations, emergency response procedures, ship design requirements and iceberg patrols.”
Staples recites, “In April, there have been three norovirus outbreaks, sickening hundreds of passengers on three separate cruise ships, possibly linked to contaminated food, water and preparation and bathroom surfaces; since February there have been two highly-publicized sexual assaults; during the past 24 months there have been a multitude of ship-disabling electrical outages, engine room fires and propulsion, steering and sanitary system breakdowns; and in January 2012, the fatal sinking of the Costa Concordia.”
“These recent marine mishaps warrant concerns about the need for additional international and domestic U.S. regulations,” says Staples. “For example, American-owned cruise companies, which register their ships in foreign nations, are enjoying exemptions from  federal and state food handling and transport guidelines, U.S. labor laws, federal corporate income tax payments, U.S. Coast Guard employee licensing regulations and Federal Bureau of Investigation employee screenings.”
Most cruise ship employees are certified by the countries where the ships are registered, including the African republics of Liberia and Sierra Leone, Bahamas and Panama. Many officers are certified by the United Nations’ International Maritime Organization but not the USCG.
“MM&P officer-members and other U.S. unionized mariners are shut out of the cruise ship industry,” says Staples. “Americans seek commensurate wages and benefits and reasonable work shifts. Whereas foreigners, especially, crewmembers and servants from undeveloped nations, are willing to accept less — and are treated, in many respects, like indentured servants aboard cruise ships where they live in cramped quarters and go months at a time without shore leave.”
Staples emphasizes “That while the South Korean ferry incident is a non-U.S. issue; it is of interest in America, where we are experiencing passenger ship incidents, which continue occurring. In the U.S., are we eventually going to hear from the news media, ‘it could have been avoided … if?”

By Professional Mariner Staff