Costa Concordia – catastrophe?

An Adlard Coles author writes:

Those of us in the boating fraternity might want to think twice about pointing out to our landlubbing counterparts that the Costa Concordia ran aground on a Friday, which as every superstitious sailor knows is always an unlucky day to sail (regardless of whether it’s the thirteenth day of the month or not).

I drew an aghast look from a lady at the London Boat Show on Saturday when I mentioned it, and she made it clear she thought it was pretty tasteless of me to be making light of the worst maritime disaster of modern times.

Of course I was doing no such thing. Tragic though the 30 deaths (assuming that those still missing at the time of writing will not yet be found alive) are, they do not really compare to the under-reported maritime disasters of the last few decades that saw several thousand die.

In 1987 the Dona Paz struck an oil tanker off the Philippines. The oil spilling from the tanker caught fire, preventing most from escaping either sinking vessel. Over 4,000 people died. In 1993, over 2,000 died when the ferry Neptune capsized near Haiti. As recently as 2002, Le Joola sank in a storm off the coast of the Gambia and 2,000 people were killed.

Whilst it’d be callous to compare tragedies on numbers alone, the real point here is about the disproportionate level of media coverage afforded the Concordia, when all of the above disasters were lucky to get a byline. Perhaps numbers have nothing to do with it, and it’s the unexpected nature of such a disaster happening in Western waters that means it warrants all the attention.

This year is the hundredth anniversary of the sinking of the Titanic, on which 1,500 lost their lives. In terms of lives lost the sinking doesn’t even figure as one of the fifty deadliest maritime disasters, but it remains the one everyone fixates upon. Sailing on her were plenty of well-to-do Westerners, as was also the case with the Concordia.

It’s hard to imagine the Dona Paz being all but forgotten had it taken a few rich Brits or Americans down with her. Our Western media wouldn’t allow it. So perhaps the allusions to the Titanic drawn by some, particularly in American newspapers, aren’t too far of the mark after all.

Meanwhile the worst maritime disasters will still be happening elsewhere, largely ignored, quickly forgotten.

Jonathan Eyers is the author of Don’t Shoot the Albatross: Nautical Myths and Superstitions. His next book is Worse than Titanic (published January 2013), about the worst maritime disasters of the last 300 years.