At least 17 people died and a number remained unaccounted for after Costa Concordia (2006) capsized after striking rocks off the small Tuscan island of Giglio on Friday 13 January. She had departed from Civitavecchia two hours earlier with 3,216 passengers and 1,013 crew members, a total of 4,229 people on a seven day Western Mediterranean cruise to Savona, Marseille, Barcelona, Palma, Cagliari and Palermo.

The accident happened at around 2142 local time, after it was reported that Captain Francesco Schettino had manoeuvred the vessel too close to land, while sailing at a speed of 15.5 knots, to salute a friend on the island.

A 50m-long gash below the waterline caused the ship to list severely on her starboard side and the order was given to abandon ship and deploy the lifeboats, although those on the port side were inoperable because of the severe angle of the list. Reports also suggest that the Captain deliberated beached the ship to prevent her from sinking completely. Many passengers threw themselves into the water and swam the short distance to shore. It was later discovered that Costa Concordia was resting on an underwater slope that suddenly drops off more than 35m just beyond the bottom of the ship’s hull.

The rescue operation by local authorities and the Italian Coast Guard later turned into a search for bodies and then into a salvage operation by the Dutch firm Smit Salvage, with the first priority being to pump out 2,300 tons (500,000 gallons) of various types of fuel from the vessel. Carnival Corporation has not yet publicly stated whether the ship will be repaired and returned to service or if she will be scrapped. Most observers believe that recovering a vessel of this size will be very difficult and think it most likely that she will be broken up on site.

Contrary to expectations, bookings for cruises around the world appear not to have been badly affected by this accident, but Carnival Corporation shares plunged by around 20 per cent in the immediate aftermath. It estimates profits will drop by around $100 million. All the major cruise lines have since agreed to reassess their evacuation and drill procedures.

Costa Concordia was one of three sisters, the others being Costa Serena (2007) and Costa Pacifica (2009), and is slightly larger than the otherwise identical Costa Fortuna (2003) and Costa Magica (2004). Costa’s new 114,500gt Fascinosa is due to enter service in May.

Costa have lost two ships in the past 50 years. In 1961 Bianca C burned and sank at St Georges, Grenada, while in 1984, Columbus C sank in Cadiz after ramming a breakwater. Less than two years ago, in February 2010, another Costa ship was involved in a fatal accident when Costa Europa hit the quay at Sharm El Sheik in Egypt, killing three crew members.

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