Recovering Data from the Costa Concordia Cruise Ship Disaster
The Costa Concordia disaster was a real Friday the 13th event in 2012, but it transpires, it wasn’t really fate that determined that this vessel would not make it through that day. Italian prosecutors are gearing up for what will probably be a very embarrassing time for the ship’s Captain Francesco Schettino who is accused of deviating from his course, ignoring the computer systems that warned him his ship was in danger and forging ahead on this ill-fated route. He claimed he was familiar with the seabed in the area. The Captain did not help his case by failing to help anyone and leaving the ship before everyone was evacuated safely; prosecutions for ignoring these basic requirements for a Captain are pending. In addition to not meeting his responsibilities, Schettino’s actions in were tantamount to recklessness and gross negligence according to passengers and crew alike.
One issue remains is that the management of the Concordia, Costa Cruises, had told the Captain to perform a “sail-past” as had been done before during a festival, when the ship passed close to shore to allow passengers a tourist opportunity. The normal route took the Concordia 5 miles out in deep water in safe seas. The sail-past route however, was not programmed into the computer so it was not being used for direct navigation. The computers navigation system was sounding an alarm which the Captain ordered switched off and he navigated visually.
The alarm sounding was not because of the route; it was sounding due to the ship traversing water that was too shallow and passing through uncharted water so attention should have been paid. It would be natural to expect the Captain to be extremely vigilant under these circumstances but he was accused of being attention-diverted from his duties by a phone call from a colleague. Allegedly on a cellphone and distracted, the Concordia’s Captain apparently made a maneuvering decision far too late and although he professes to be an expert in the local seabed, the ship hit an uncharted rock causing immense damage below the waterline. The computers involved were very sophisticated and despite damage from water ingress making hard drive recovery difficult, prosecutors with the help of forensic data recovery experts at SalvageData of New York who specialized in such issues who help prepare digital records to able re-enactments for the courts, the exact process by which the ship foundered and demonstrate accurately the data available to the Captain at the time, and prior to the incident. The Captain blamed his charts for not showing the reef he struck, despite claiming to know the area intricately.
Late Reporting the Incident
It was 45 minutes after the impact before Captain Schettino called the authorities. In fact, passengers had reported the emergency before the Captain did which prosecutors also took an interest in; he was charged with failing to notify the authorities of the incident at the time it happened. Lucky for him, the weather and tides at the time allowed the ship to list heavily and come to rest in a reasonable easy attitude for rescue operations. Had there been different tides and wind conditions, the ship would have listed into deep water and sunk before rescue operations could be completed. With a 70 meter gash down the hull and flooded engine rooms, the ship could not recover or maneuver so the impact was rendered the vessel inoperable. Despite this the Captain still did not issue an abandon ship order, raising further competency questions. The whole disaster seemed to be a completely avoidable event. Several people lost their lives, a number were seriously injured and the vessel was declared a complete write-off by the insurers. Captain Schettino meanwhile faces numerous charges which he is still fighting, 32 people lost their lives in this terrible event and it seems human error was to blame.
Court Battles to go on for Years
The court battles grind on and those involved are left to pick up the pieces and move on. Although compensation was paid to a third of the passengers who accepted €11,000 (approx. US$14,500), the remainder (and many businesses on land too), are engaging in civil actions to claim compensation. US courts have rejected the possibility that a lawsuit could be handled there and have referred all claimants back to the Italian court system. The total paid out will probably not be known for years as none of these lawsuits are anywhere near a courtroom yet. This Friday the 13th no doubt will be remembered for many years to come by thousands affected by the disaster.