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A Short History Of The COSTA CONCORDIA

Posted on Sunday, January 22, 2012 by


A Look At The Short Career Of A Cruise Ship


Shawn J. Dake

 When a large passenger ship meets with disaster, that event becomes the only thing the ship will forever be known for in the minds of the public. Such will be the case with the COSTA CONCORDIA, which at the time of her launch was the largest Italian cruise ship in history. While a spectacular shipwreck within sight of hundreds of camera lenses turned out to be this vessel’s fate, there is no arguing that this was a very significant ship for other important reasons.

COSTA CONCORDIA when new, Photo credit Cezary P, Wikimedia commons, GNU Free Documentation License

The COSTA CONCORDIA was ordered in January, 2004 as a bigger, modified version of the 102,587 gross ton COSTA FORTUNA and COSTA MAGICA which entered service in 2003 and 2004 respectively. The newest vessel would be the name ship of the “Costa Concordia Class” of five nearly identical 114,147 gross ton ships that would carry approximately 300 more passengers than their predecessors. Based on double-occupancy the latest Costa entrant would carry 3,004 passengers and a crew of over 1,000. At full capacity there could be up to 3,780 passengers aboard occupying the 1,502 staterooms. The overall length of the ship is 952 feet (290.2 meters), a beam of 116 feet (35.5 meters) and a draft of over 26 feet (8.2 meters). The newer Costa ships are based on a common platform as vessels in parent company Carnival Cruise Line’s fleet. The same basic design for the COSTA CONCORDIA, originated with the CARNIVAL CONQUEST class of ships beginning in 2002.

COSTA CONCORDIA, Bar Europa and Atrium.

COSTA CONCORDIA, Ristorante. The Roma and Milano Dining Rooms were nearly identical.

The rapid pace of building is well illustrated by the large number of ships delivered by Italy’s Fincantieri shipyards during the decade from 2002 to 2012. For just the two brands, Carnival and Costa, the yard produced 19 cruise ships, 11 of which share similarities of design with the COSTA CONCORDIA. Among their many subsidiary companies, Costa Cruises and their affiliated Aida Cruises brand were the primary beneficiaries of Carnival’s new building largesse. The COSTA CONCORDIA entered salt water for the first time from the Sestri Ponente yard of Fincantieri near Genoa, Italy, on September 2, 2005. The floating out ceremony was somewhat unusual in that it resembled a traditional ship launch more than a mere move to the builder’s wet dock. Carnival Corporation chairman Micky Arison was present for the blessing which was performed by Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, the Archbishop of Genoa. An employee of the shipyard, Graziella Frisone, acted as Godmother. As she sent the ceremonial bottle of champagne against the hull, the bottle did not break. Widely regarded in seagoing lore as an extremely unlucky omen, another shipyard worker successfully smashed the bottle against the hull on the second attempt. On June 30th the largest Italian ship in history was delivered, followed by the official christening ceremony on July 7, 2006 by supermodel Eva Herzigova. Again underscoring the rapid building pace, the next ship of the class, the COSTA SERENA was floated out on August 4th and commenced her own maiden voyage in May, 2007. The third sister COSTA PACIFICA came along in 2009. As if that wasn’t enough, two smaller 92,720 gross ton sisters were ordered by Carnival Corporation for Costa, and delivered in 2009 and 2010. The final two units in the “Concordia Class” are brand new; the COSTA FAVOLOSA, recently christened in July, 2011 and the COSTA FASCINOSA, coming later this year in May.

COSTA CONCORDIA, Discoteca Lisbona.

The new COSTA CONCORDIA offered an amazing number of public rooms, spanning three full decks and portions of three others. The Teatro Atene showroom located in the forward section of the ship rose three decks in height from Decks 3 through 5. There were 13 bars, five restaurants and four swimming pools, the two main ones both covered by moveable macrodomes. The Samsara Spa staterooms and suites were among the first to provide “discreet and convenient access to the largest spa at sea.” The spa complex was located on the two highest levels, Decks 10 and 11. The midship Roma restaurant and aft, Milano restaurant were each two decks in height. Perhaps most spectacular among the many features, the Grand Atrium Europa rose through nine decks. Like all of the Carnival Cruise Line ships, the interior was designed by Carnival’s chief architect Joe Farcus. The theme was loosely based on the great architectural styles found in the cities of Europe up through the 1900’s. For example, there was the Grand Bar Berlin, Piano Bar Budapest and the Café Helsinki. An actual Costa-version of a Formula One racecar was placed aboard to highlight the ship’s Grand Prix racing simulator. While well known for including over-the-top design elements in the ships of both Carnival and Costa, Mr. Farcus on several occasions summed up his philosophy stating “The idea is to create an environment for people on vacation, allowing them to get away from their normal, every-day life, making even the shyest persons come out of their shells.” The interior decoration could never be mistaken for that of the classic Italian liners of an earlier era, but with its bold emphasis on primary colors and changing lighting patterns it certainly made a statement of its own. Carnival had taken all of the features that make them so successful with American audiences and gave the whole ship an Italian accent designed for European cruise passengers.


The COSTA CONCORDIA has the distinction of remaining on basically the same 7-day Western Mediterranean itinerary nearly her entire career. That first season in 2006, the normal route took the ship from Civitavecchia, the seaport for Rome, to Savona, Italy, the Spanish ports of Barcelona and Palma De Mallorca, then on to Tunis, Tunisia, Valletta, Malta and Palermo in Sicily. Following the inaugural cruise, a special 9-night voyage on July 14th found the ship sailing out of the Strait of Gibraltar as far west as Lisbon, Portugal, also visiting a number of Spanish ports. That first season, the only other exceptions to the norm were several 10 and 11-night cruises visiting Egypt, Cyprus and Greece during the winter holidays. The 7-day itinerary was repeated in subsequent years, however for the 2010 season Barcelona became the primary embarkation port instead of Rome which was dropped along with the call at Malta. In its place, Marseille, France was added as French passengers came aboard in increasing numbers. Guests could also embark at Savona upon request. For many years, the Mediterranean was not considered a year-round cruising destination. It could be cold and stormy almost any time other than mid-summer, and especially during the winter months. During the winter of 2009/2010 the ship which rarely ventured out of the Mediterranean Sea crossed the south Atlantic for a series of cruises within Brazil. Embarking passengers at Santos, a typical 7-night itinerary visited Rio De Janeiro followed by a day at sea, then Salvador de Bahia, the southern resort city of Ilheus, another sea day, then a stop at Ilhabela (translation Beautiful Island) before returning to Santos; All Brazilian ports. Back to the Mediterranean, for the current 2011/2012 season the COSTA CONCORDIA once again offered a weekly Western route including Civitavecchia, Savona, Marseille, Barcelona, Palma de Mallorca, Caligari, and Palermo. The majority of passengers originated in Italy, although it was certainly a international passenger list with large numbers of German and French passengers aboard, along with British, Spanish, North and South Americans, Australians and even South Koreans. All told, 39 nationalities were represented among the passengers. The crew was also a multinational mix with the majority originating in the Philippines, India and Indonesia. At the time of the final voyage, the COSTA CONCORDIA might embark passengers at up to four ports along the itinerary. This may have contributed to some of the confusion that has arisen regarding the lifeboat drills, or lack of. Most of the cruise lines sailing from the United States conduct an emergency drill just prior to departure from port, or shortly thereafter. In Europe the drill is frequently conducted the following day, but still within 24 hours of sailing. Normally, drills are conducted along the way only for those passengers that embarked at a transit port the previous day. On her final voyage, the COSTA CONCORDIA had sailed from Civitavecchia, on Friday, January 13th only a little over two hours before disaster struck.

Captain Francesco Schettino on the bridge of COSTA CONCORDIA

When the grounding first occurred that Friday evening it was widely speculated that a technical problem had caused the electrical systems to falter, possibly putting the ship off course and plunging parts of the interior into darkness. Italian Prosecutors quickly ruled that out saying the captain was on the bridge at the time of the incident and had “made a grave error.” In a television interview the CEO of Costa Crociere, Pier Luigi Fosci squarely placed the blame on the ship’s master, stating “The captain decided to change the route and he went into a water he did not know in advance.” An earlier statement from the cruise line noted, “The route of the vessel appears to have been too close to the shore, and the captain’s judgment in handling the emergency appears to have not followed standard Costa procedures.” By the captain’s own admission, he was maneuvering the ship in “touristic navigation” although it would not have been for the benefit of the passengers onboard who could not see much of the island in the darkness. On a number of previous occasions (at least four according to records and a statement from the captain) the COSTA CONCORDIA was brought close to shore, showing off the brightly lit ship for retired Captain Mario Palombo, a native of Giglio and a legend among Italian sea captains. Captain Schettino was on the telephone with Captain Palombo at the time of the accident. In addition, reports say the family of the ship’s Maitre d’ also reside on Giglio. The normal shipping lanes lie approximately five miles offshore. An Italian prosecutor has indicated the ship was only 150 meters from shore at the time of the grounding. Captain Schettino claims he was 300 meters from the shoreline. That is equal to 328 yards or 984 feet, only slightly greater than the length of the COSTA CONCORDIA itself. That was obviously too close to the Le Scole Reef which is well-marked on charts. Captain Schettino insists the rocks he hit were not indicated. Speaking on Italian television, he said “On the nautical chart, it was marked just as water. We were navigating approximately 300 meters from the rocks. There shouldn’t have been such a rock. On the nautical chart it indicated that there was water deep below.” He added “we were the last ones to leave the ship,” which was an untrue statement as there were at least 100 and possibly as many as 300 still onboard waiting to be evacuated. He later revised that saying as the ship listed he was “catapulted into the sea” and in another version he tripped and fell into a lifeboat when the vessel heeled to over 60 degrees.

COSTA CONCORDIA wreck on January 14, 2012, Photo Credit Rvongher, Wikimedia Creative Commons attribution-Share Alike 3.0

Captain Francesco Schettino had been with Costa since 2002 beginning as a safety officer. He was promoted to captain in 2006. This was his first accident. The 52-year old captain comes from Meta di Sorrento, a village with deep maritime traditions. Several cruise and ferry captains hail from there. Captain Schettino was arrested and charged with the serious crimes of causing a shipwreck, manslaughter and abandoning his ship. First officer, Ciro Ambrosio was also placed under arrest. With the rapidly growing size of international cruise fleets and the size ships that make up the bulk of the tonnage, finding enough competent crew to provide good service has been an increasing problem. To a lesser extent, the same holds true for the position of captain. With the smaller fleets of the recent past, it would have been unheard of for a ship master with just over five years experience to be given command of a passenger ship of over 114,000 gross tons. Within the Carnival group, sister company Holland America Line does not have enough Dutch sea captains to man their 15 ship fleet, so has turned to Great Britain for some of their senior officers. Even a few Americans are now finding their way to the top position aboard foreign registered cruise ships. Costa’s 2012 fleet would number 16 ships if the COSTA CONCORDIA were included.

A partial timeline of events can be assembled from the known facts. The COSTA CONCORDIA struck rocks off Isola del Giglio at approximately 9:42pm, the speed when it hit the rocks, 15.5 knots. Late sitting passengers were finishing up dinner in the restaurants. Guests from the early sitting were enjoying the bars and lounges while many were in the showroom watching a magic show. There was a boom or banging sound and the lights went out. Staff announced that it was an electrical failure. Pier Luigi Fosci stated that Costa headquarters was in touch with the ship at 10:05pm but could not access the gravity of the situation because the captain’s conversation “did not correspond to the truth.” He said there were problems but did not mention hitting rocks. At 10:12pm the Italian Coast Guard contacted the ship after being alerted by calls from passengers to shore, but was told “it’s all okay, it’s just a blackout, we’re taking care of the situation.” By 10:30pm after a repeated call from the Coast Guard, the captain agreed to send out a distress call. Twelve minutes later and exactly an hour after the collision, authorities were finally told that the problems began with striking the rocks. When the ship hit, it veered sharply to the right. Most reports indicate the captain continued to bring the ship around to starboard in a circle heading back toward the island. By this point time the ship was listing 20 degrees. The order to abandon ship was not given until 10:50pm. Some people were jumping into the sea attempting to swim to the island while others assembled at their lifeboat stations along Deck 3. Had the order to leave the ship been given earlier all passengers should have been able to evacuate in less than an hour with the ship upright. Nearing midnight, the list had increased to such a degree that the port lifeboats could no longer be lowered. Sometime between 11:30pm and 11:40pm, Captain Schettino was reportedly seen getting into a lifeboat. Dominica Cemortan, described as a 25-year old former hostess and friend of the captain, claims she was on the bridge until 11:50pm when Schettino ordered her to “go down to the third deck and get into a lifeboat that could take more people.” She said she was brought to the bridge because she speaks five languages and was asked by the captain to translate announcements from Italian into Russian. Until the call to abandon ship, the message she repeatedly was asked to deliver was “Passengers should return to their cabins because it is just a power failure.” Her claim is that the captain did not leave the bridge until sometime after midnight. What is known is that at 12:40am, Captain Schettino told the Coast Guard “I’m coordinating the rescue” when he was in fact in a lifeboat. The Coast Guard official tells him “You’re in a lifeboat? Get back on your ship immediately.” The captain was later seen wandering onshore and had a heated exchange with the Coast Guard over leaving his command. With the ship abandoned, the Coast Guard took over the rescue operation at 12:50am. Most of the passengers and remaining crew were off the ship by 1:30am, with the last that could evacuate, leaving before 3:00am. During the night, the COSTA CONCORDIA rolled over onto her starboard side, nearly half submerged, just outside the entrance to Giglio Harbor on Gabbianara Point.

Beyond the human tragedy and the long-term repercussions in the maritime world, the financial impact of this disaster will be substantial. On the Monday following the wreck, when the British stock markets opened, shares of Carnival Corporation & plc, fell by over 20% representing the loss of 1 billion pounds in market value. They closed the day down 17.04%. The United States markets reopened on Tuesday following the Martin Luther King holiday when stocks sank by 14.2%. Carnival’s own analysts say the incident will impact 2012 earnings by $85 to $95 million, but acknowledges that their profits could suffer more than $100 million for the fiscal year which ends on November 30th. Carnival’s insurance policy on the COSTA CONCORDIA carries a $30 million deductible. In addition, their third party personal injury liability coverage has another $10 million deductible. All told the insurers are expecting to face $512 million in total costs. At least two major financial groups downgraded their ratings of Carnival stocks. Analysts warned that the disaster could hurt bookings at a crucial time of year, the January through March peak sales period, reduce the company’s capacity and lead to an avalanche of lawsuits. For their part, statements coming from Carnival, at least initially, seem to indicate that they expect the ship to return someday: “The vessel is expected to be out of service for the remainder of our current fiscal year, if not longer,” said the cruise line. “In addition, the company anticipates other costs to the business that are not possible to determine at this time.” If COSTA CONCORDIA were to rise from the seabed the question becomes what passengers would be anxious to book a cruise on the now infamous ship and what division of the company would the repaired vessel be handed over to? Both may be moot points if the half-sunken hulk slides off the rocks and sinks to the bottom. The most likely scenario is that the doomed ship will be abandoned to the insurance underwriters as a total constructive loss.

COSTA CONCORDIA wreck off Isola del Giglio, Photo credit Uaohk, GNU Free Documentation License

We now know that there were 3,216 passengers and 1,013 crew members aboard the COSTA CONCORDIA for a total of 4,229 souls. As this is written 13 bodies have been recovered while another 19 are missing and presumed lost. Considering the circumstances it seems amazing that more lives were not lost in the darkness and confusion of the capsizing ship. Investigations will continue and rumors will be replaced by newly learned facts. The COSTA CONCORDIA will become a legendary ship for the worst of all possible reasons.

Thanks to Martin Cox, Bruce Dake, Caroline Dake and Delbert Dake.

Copyright 2012 by Shawn J. Dake

15 Responses to A Short History Of The COSTA CONCORDIA

  1. StefanM

    January 22, 2012 at 8:39 pm

    I am curious about the appearance of the ship in the night-time aerial infrared video and in the later daytime images. In the IR video, the ship appears to be at almost exactly a 90 degree list, with the keel well out of the water, whereas in the later daylight images she is at a 75-80 degree list, with the keel and most of the bottom well submerged (in fact, waves a lapping at the gash, which is located on the moulding between bottom and topsides. This to me suggests that the ship actually capsized and was supported at its superstructure by rock sloping from the shore, and that it later sank more fully, its hull topsides resting against deeper rock further off the shore, hence reducing the list.

    This is a very disturbing picture, suggesting that the ingress of water
    caused instability: can the sloshing of water, if taken on in sufficient quantity, cause this type of ship to become unstable due to the free surface effect? Is there insufficient impedance of water movement between port and starboard? This is reinforced by the fact that the ship rolled onto its starboard side despite taking in water on the port side.

    After the “Herald of Free Enterprise” and other RORO accidents, one would think that this sort of problem would have been corrected for in all later ship designs. Is it in fact inherent to modern cruise ship design?

  2. Mauretania1907

    January 23, 2012 at 12:12 am

    In the light of this tragedy, I would hope that there may be a rethink about building very lange ships in favour of smaller. Please continue to update news as I would like to know what eventually happens to the ship and to Captain Schettino. My guess is like yours, she would be left to the insurers and be scrapped – a sad end for both man and ship.

  3. Lincolnshire

    January 23, 2012 at 6:30 am

    It looks like another example after the Herald of Free Enterprize it was scrapped at the insistence of P&O who did n,t want the ferry turning up in some far eastern country trading as a RoRo ferry again.
    It also was at that time to get rid of the Townsend Thoresen name and what happened on that fate full night.
    Now re-branded as P & O Ferries, new paint job, new uniforms and new name and hopefully people would think it was a new set up and new safety methods adopted etc.
    So it could be that the only way for this is scrap the ship , scrap the Costa name and a total re-branding of the ships, staff uniforms and everything to do with Costa as the only way forward to try and stop people of thinking that this is the company who,s ship sunk and is becoming more famous than Titanic. What happened to the White Star line?
    Such a pity for the ship and passengers and company, all may be revealed in the end as to what happened on that fate full night

  4. Kenneth Eden

    January 23, 2012 at 6:48 am

    The old saying “size matters”, be it taken seriously or in prat falls of laughter, is the main stay of the passenger ship, always has. The quest for bigger, larger and more oppulent ships has been the norm for well near two centuries, maritime history will attest to that.

    Today what many feel is the trashing of the passenger ship is the size coupled with the on board ammenities. Many seem to only care about the actual ship and its outside appearence, never sailing in nor knowing the pleasures or lack of them, as offered on a ship, past or contemporary.

    The cruise ship is designed and built to provide the expected activities that the passenger demands. – period -. If many more passsengers are accommodated regardlesss of the size of the ship, so be it. Large numbers of passengers bring revenue, and that cash is needed to provide what the passsenger demands. – period -.

    Lets look at some vintage ships, say, SOUTHAWARD, very nice ship, sailed with about 800 pax, 450 crew, approx. 17,000grts – now, that was crammed. Compare to the Cunard Queens of today, huge, never a crowd, and pretty enviable space ratios. Then, look at the EPIC – huge and crowded, poor space ratio. Other comparisons will be made, for sure, but, the bottom line, as always, price=quality=ammentites=the experience. – period -.

    I savor all forms of ships – size, cruise line and the like. Shortly I will sail CELEBRITY SIHLOUETTE for 12 nights. Shes huge to be sure. I will enjoy seeing if my formula price=quality=ammenities=the experience is correct. Always has been, I see know reason to doubt it now.

  5. Rob

    January 23, 2012 at 10:34 am

    To Lincolnshire,

    It may not be quite as bad as all that. A number of cruise lines have rebounded from tragedies, and the only one I can think of that wound up changing its name was Starlauro (which became MSC).

    Even White Star survived for decades after the Titanic, and even then, it was the Great Depression and financial problems at their parent companies that really did them in, and they wound up first merging their passenger operations with Cunard, then being bought out by Cunard entirely.

    Costa is an old and respected line with 60+ years of history behind it, not some “invented” brand created a decade or two ago that could be dropped without anyone noticing. It would take a lot of lingering business problems to cause Carnival to take such drastic action, and I don’t think they’ll leap to any hasty decisions.

  6. Carmelo

    January 23, 2012 at 5:24 pm

    I am surprised that no one has brought up the wreck of the French Line’s Antilles on January 8th, 1971. The Antilles hit a reef near the island of Mustique in the Grenadines and caught fire. I am not mistaken passengers and crew were rescued mostly by the QE2. The shipwreck remaind and still is a diving site. Sailing is a great experience but the sea is due its respect.

  7. Peter Knego

    January 23, 2012 at 5:37 pm

    Carmelo, wasn’t the ANTILLES wreck a similar case of the captain wanting to get his passengers a close up view of Mustique? Best, Peter

  8. Carmelo

    January 23, 2012 at 7:43 pm

    You are correct Peter, somewhere on the web there is a story from one of the survivors -I believe (within a diving tours site)- narrating that the captains of the French Line back then had authority to switch course to make the island hopping more interesting. The story even tells of one of the residents of Mustique hopping on his private plane to warn the Antilles but it was too late. There are very few pics of the wreck to be found on the web but for the French Line’s archives.

  9. Kenneth Eden

    January 24, 2012 at 5:56 am

    The ANTILLES – for years the QE2 and CUNARD COUNTESS an CUNARD PRINCESS sailed past, even around, the site were the ANTILLES sank. I was on a 21 day QE2 cruise that followed the immediate cruise of the QE2 saving the ANTILLES passengers, and a pale whiff of smoke eminated up from from wreck that lay at the bottom of the Caribbean Sea.

    Scuttle butt on the cruise was that ANTILLES passengers were rubbernecking to see what celebs were sunbathing on the exclusive isle of Mustique. Well, we never came close on the QE2 to the shores of the island.

    There were pictures of the rescue on display on board the QE2, nothing permanent. Tacky, actually. It was said the fire was so intense that metal, even jewelry, melted, fused together and salvaging was nearly if not imposible.

  10. Kenneth Eden

    January 24, 2012 at 11:11 am

    photo of el capitan – is taking tae chi or is ready to knock somebodies lights out?

  11. JBH WorldWide

    January 25, 2012 at 9:08 am

    Another queen of the sea gone…

  12. Maritime Education

    January 25, 2012 at 9:51 am

    Nice historical overview mate.. The captain’s experience portion of the article startled me however..

    George Marikas

  13. justice

    January 25, 2012 at 4:13 pm

    i think the captain is to blame because um we went over this in class and we discussed um why and how we though was responsible well i think the captain because he left thee bout and in a captains hand book it says to say on the ship with the passengers till all the passengers get off then you get off not get off and leave all the passengers on so i think hes a courd.

  14. John Cant

    January 26, 2012 at 1:27 am

    The Antilles was the sister ship of the Flandre of French Line.I was working for French Line in 1967 when they brought the Flandre to Montreal, as Canada was celebrating her 100th birthday, so I was able to go aboard. In later years as I was now working for Costa, she became the Carla C. Comparing the ship to her previous life as the Flandre, even though Costa had rebuilt her, she still had some of the first class suites still left as they had been when she was the Flandre. She had been built originally for service in the Caribbean with the Antilles, but was transferred to the Atlantic run as French Line needed extra capacity on this service before the France was launched.

  15. bob

    January 30, 2012 at 12:08 pm

    Funny :)

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