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Lessons From The Grounding Of Cruise Ship

Lessons From The Grounding Of Cruise Ship
March 15
11:47 2017


On January 13, 2012, on a night of favourable sea conditions, eight men stood on a dimly lit bridge.

The vessel approaching the poorly lit coast of the tiny Giglio Island in the Tyrrhenian Sea on the Mediterranean was steady at 16 knots.

Three deck officers, the helmsman, and a cadet were part of the bridge team with the Master in charge of the navigation. Two senior staff members, although not a part of the ship’s navigation team, were also on the bridge.

The 114.147 GT vessel carrying 3,206 passengers and 1,023 crew members had left the Port of Civitavecchia, bound for Savona (Italy) at 19:18 hours.

At 21:45:07 hours, the giant cruise ship collided with “Scole Rocks” on Giglio Island causing loss of 32 lives and the vessel.  Two people are still deemed missing.

The 181 page Marine Casualties Investigative Body (MIT) report details some bizarre events that caused the accidents and the actions that followed.

It appears that according to Murphy’s Law, “Anything that can go wrong, will go wrong.”


Three important questions pop up:

  1. Why did a vessel, built with all the safety requirements, manned and maintained according to stringent international regulations, flounder in seemly calm seas?
  2. Why was there a loss of the vessel in shallow waters so close to shore?
  3. Why was there loss of lives when the rescue was just a few minutes away?

It is not the intention of this article to evaluate all the findings in the report, but it is worthwhile noting some unusual activity and events that occurred before and after the grounding.

In this two-part article, let’s look at the number one reason for the vessels grounding.

The Voice Data Recorder (VDR) is a device similar to the “Black Box” often mentioned in aircraft accident investigations.  The VDR on the vessel records certain helm orders given by the Master.

The accident reports narrate the events of those fatal last moments on the bridge.

21:34:36 – Master is on the bridge ordering the helmsman to manual mode.

21:37:11 to 21:38:47 – The Master is on the mobile phone to someone on-shore to ask the safe depth from the coast of Giglio Island (the safe distance is said to have been 0.3/0.4 miles).

21:40:28 – A series of helm orders are given by the Master but when repeated by the helmsman are misunderstood, and they needed to be corrected (The position of 325 was then incorrectly repeated by the First Officer as 335, and the Master reiterated 325).

21.43.44 – Again, the number of 350 is misunderstood and was not confirmed properly.

21.44.05 – The vessel was 0.3 miles from shore traveling at a speed of 16 knots and 0.3 miles, precariously close to the limit of shallow water.

21.44.11 to 21:44:34 (Next seconds) – With the bow, only 150 metres from the rock,  a command of 10 degrees to port is answered by five degrees to port by the helmsman.

21.44.45 – A number of commands to “port” were erroneously acknowledged as “starboard” and was subsequently corrected only after eight seconds has lapsed.

21:45:07 – The second officer from the port wing learns that the ship is aground and a loud crash was heard.

There were a number of reasons for this disaster, which are detailed in the full MIT report.


Without diving into the depths of navigation technicalities, some curious questions arise from non-mariners:


Why navigate so precariously close to shallow waters?

Although not well detailed in the report, sailing past Giglio Island was a usual ritual by the company.  How close the vessel was to the coastline should have been in the passage plan and not dependent on a phone call to shore.

The Master also did not rely on the navigation tools available to him such as manual charts and an Electronic Chart Display Information Systems. (ECDIS) was available on the bridge even though it was not compulsory to be used as navigational aid at the time.


Who was in charge of


There are disturbing reports that there was no handover from the Watch to the changing officers and there was no formal take of command from the Master when he arrived on the bridge.

The Master did not attend any Bridge Resource Management (BRM) courses and therefore the management on the bridge at the time was in disarray.

None of the crew had any formal ECDIS training or certificate


    Why so many erroneous helm commands that need correcting?

The crew complement of the vessel comprised of 294 from the Philippines, 202 from India, 169 from Indonesia and 149 from Italy.

It is important to note that the official language on board was Italian and English was spoken regularly but none of the crew member’s mother tongue was English, the language spoken on the bridge at the time.

There were also the fundamental errors of navigation contributing to the disaster.

   Navigating too close to shore.

    Not reducing speed (the ship was moving at 16 knots until it hit the rock).

    Not using all resources available for safe navigation of the vessel


Lessons Adopted by Our Maritime Students

This article points out that training in Electronic Chart and Display Systems (ECDIS), Bridge Resource Management and proper communication is now essential and compulsory for Maritime Training and Education.

When training on The Marine Bridge Simulator, at the Fiji Maritime Academy, students get first-hand practice of handling vessels in situations such as this one encountered on the bridge of this ill-fated vessel.

As well as ECDIS, and RADAR simulation, the instructor will create real life scenario’s that takes a typical bridge management team close to shore and students practice the various options available to them.

Next week, we look at some reasons for the vessel to capsize and why there was loss of lives.

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