About Cruise Ships, Capsizing and Captains

The tragedy of Costa Concordia cruise ship is a wakeup call; or probably it’s just another maritime disaster which will be forgotten after sometime. But it’s true that such incidents bring the numerous loopholes of the industry to the surface.



With this incident, the entire marine world sits and wonders about the accidents that occur on seemingly safe waters, the damage that continues to occur and the awkward shifting of responsibility from one end to another.

While news about Costa Concordia debacle makes rounds for not so good reasons, we try to assess the situation to seek answers to a few simple yet important questions.

What is the root cause of all cruise ship accidents?

It is a fair question. To think, with all the sophisticated technologies at a captain’s disposal, it is a bit surprising that modern marine world should still see as many accidents as it does. On an average, one serious accident occurs every day somewhere in the world. Not each one is as big as Costa Concordia’s (thankfully) but they still occur.

At a closer look, it becomes clear that the biggest reason behind it is the human factor. Even the most advanced technology finds its weakest link in the human hand that handles it. Operating errors form the biggest reason for most accidents in marine world.

Going deeper we came to a conclusion that there are several forms of human errors, especially when it comes to handling ships. They are a few enumerated below.

  • Negligence of watch keeping
  • Negligence of safety working rules
  • Poor handling of machinery
  • Inadequate training and knowledge
  • Inappropriateness of crew manning
  • Straying from designated course
  • Inappropriate maneuvering of vessel
  • Violation of navigation rules

These are only some of the ways where human error brings down a ship, literally. Of course, there are other reasons too. Unexpected breakdown of machinery, bad weather and sometimes even things totally beyond human control are responsible for a ship’s unhappy fate.

But despite of this, human factor and that too, human error remains biggest reason for an accident. While a vessel always remains at certain risks, it is the human factor that multiplies this risk manifold, and if this factor includes more of negligence than any other reason, Can it be helped? Certainly yes! All it takes is a wary eye and alert mind. Does this mean we can avert accidents forever? Sadly no! But it’s definitely worth a try.


Why are ships still getting capsized?

The idea of ships overturning in middle of seas is a disturbing one. But consider it with all the technology that exists and capsizing would seem like an invincible problem.

It is to note that a ship would not generally capsize because of one single reason. It takes two to three factors to capsize a ship.

Here is a look into major reasons that lead to capsizing:

1. Operational error

An operational error on part of the captain can often turn ugly easily. A little miscalculation while a maneuver as simple as turning the vessel can lead to an accident.

2. Speed

The speed of the ship needs to be according to its size. A minor error in the speed and the vessel could turn quicker than anyone can say ‘captain’. Approaching a turn or maneuver at high speed means inviting trouble, especially if someone is not really equipped to handle it.

3. Weather

A bad weather, a dangerous wave or unfriendly winds can be enough to capsize a vessel.

 4. Grounding

The grounding of a ship along with other factors has also been one of the main reasons for capsizing.

 5.  Other damage to the vessel

Additional damage that the vessel may already have incurred can lead to its capsizing. Non uniformity in weight distribution, improper bilge action on the vessel or light keel can ‘tip’ the vessel towards capsizing.

As it is clear, most of the reasons that lead to capsizing are easy enough to avoid but hard enough to be ignored.

A better understanding of the vessel and its maneuvering is all that is needed to avoid it.

 Size of the vessel

The sheer size of the vessel can sometimes prove extremely undesirable for it. Not only the handling of vessel becomes much trickier, but its size makes it even so delicate. It is important for every captain to consider how huge the vessel and what would be the best speed to handle it at, along with considering other aspects required to handle such a massive ship.

Staying on the Path

Trying a tricky maneuver or going on a detour wouldn’t be a good idea when you aren’t sure of what lies ahead of you. Costa Concordia’s last minute change of path, her captain’s inability to see the rocks and his lack of required action are three wrong things in a ridiculously short span of time but a hell of a lesson. While the ship wasn’t exactly capsized, she was pretty close to it. Handling vessels especially on a path not planned makes capsizing much more probable.

Keeping the vessel in proper ship-shape

As mundane as repairing may be, for sake of every single soul on a vessel, it is important to look after every inch of the ship. A broken rig or malfunctioning bilge pump can cost you much more than amount of money on repair. Keep the vessel always in best possible condition.

Relying on experience – But up to a certain limit

Let your experience count, but not too much. That’s true. Better understanding of waters will always work in your favor. Knowledge gained from experience can help prevent such incidents with a lot of ease. But don’t think you know nature all through. Keep your mind open but your eyes, wider still.


 What is a captain’s role in case of maritime adversary?

 Handling a passenger ship at sea is clearly not an easy task. It involves great responsibility and courage. Even with the best technology, a ship can still run aground. Things can go bad anytime. But when they do, a captain is the one responsible for everything- vessel’s safety and its passenger’s life.

Costa Concordia’s captain, Commander Schettino, in abandoning the ship in time of peril did not set the best example. On the flip side, it makes us realize how important it is to have a captain aboard until the very end. In time of peril, a captain should know the importance of responsibility and act with courage. He or she can do at least the following:

  • It is a captain’s responsibility to get the cargo, passengers and crew on a vessel safely to the destination. In case that motive is hindered, a captain’s first duty is to ensure minimum loss of life and property.
  • He must try to reach for the nearest help that can reach the disaster site at the earliest.
  • He must use everything at his disposal to reach for help with minimum time loss
  • The onshore command centre must be notified immediately
  • He should be know the right time to give “Abandon the ship” orders to the passengers
  • As and when the help arrives, the captain is needed to assist in the rescue operation along with the other ship. It’s only after it has been ensured that no further action can be taken for the vessel in peril that the captain can leave the ship.
  • Under certain circumstances, a captain and other rescuers may feel that a third person’s perspective could do better for the ship’s rescue. In such circumstances, a captain may leave the ship. But such a case is highly unusual. However, even under such circumstances, a captain can’t take off on another ship and must come back to aid the rescue operation.

In case of an accident, the captain has an obligation to take the responsibility of the action and ensure minimum loss. Any deviation from the path can earn him a legal action.

US navy regulations state that a ship’s captain or commander should stay with his vessel as long as it necessary. As such, leaving the ship or even ‘falling out of it’ anytime before it is a legal offense. This law varies with the government though. It is more of a moral responsibility of the captain that this thing is based on.  No law downright states a captain to go down with his ship but he is expected to stand by his promise of safety of all aboard. Maybe it is something not mentioned in the contract or maybe it’s in the fine print or maybe not even there, but it’s always the hope that it’s on his conscience.


[stextbox id="grey" caption="Read More About"]Worst Maritime Accidents       No Blame Policy       Corporate Ocean Responsibility [/stextbox]



montrealgazette , wainjurylaw , dw-world , everydaycounsel

Image Credits



  1. Ismail Omar says

    Dear Sir,
    As a first timer opening this website,find it interesting and informative.

    Thank you

Leave a Reply

Get Free News Updates Daily

Join 40000+ maritime professionals who receive daily newsletters, offers and more..