The Cost of Complaceny – Costa Concordia
One of my first shipping assignments out of school was aboard a break bulk cargo vessel bound for Thule, Greenland. The neat thing about that run are the massive icebergs as you get closer to the Arctic Circle. But the bergs can also be the most devastating thing about the run if one is not paying attention. The Captain gave me a great piece of advice on my first trip that has remained with me throughout my career. He said you must endeavor to remain vigilant on watch because the very moment you stop paying attention something unexpected will happen. It is still great advice and something the officers aboard the Costa Concordia clearly forgot.
Have you ever performed a task so many times and so regularly that it becomes automatic? I know I have. Running a cruise ship is sort of like that. You know which ports you will be at and when. The passengers come aboard, you hit your ports like clockwork, eat some nice meals, and the passengers disembark. To the average person the job would appear to be exciting. Every night is lavish dinners and dancing, beautiful seascapes and destinations. But to the officers and crew on board it is just business as usual, over and over again until the two or three month hitch is over. Tuesdays are prime rib night and the next morning at 0636 you know you are embarking the pilot at the sea buoy to enter Port A. Then depart by 2300 for Port B. You know meatloaf is on the dinner menu tomorrow night. Perhaps you share a meal and conversation with some passengers at the Captain’s table. Like anything, this routine can become mundane even for a vessel captain. Imagine doing these same things and seeing the same sights on a very regular schedule every week for fifteen years. It would be a challenge to not become bored and complacent.
So it is not a stretch to imagine the officers aboard the Costa Concordia became complacent and in turn tried to invigorate the schedule with a little excitement. How would you make things interesting if you were bored with the run on that ship? Maybe have dinner and drinks with a pretty girl? Perhaps take a route closer to the coastline so you could do a little terrestrial navigation while on watch? Maybe there is nothing you could do except wait to get off the ship. If this were the case your mind would wander and you would likely stop paying attention to critical information and warnings from the navigation equipment. You might even be playing on your cell phone as reception improved the closer the ship came to shore.
Things like this occur on ships around the world every day. On a ship like the Costa Concordia the automated navigation equipment is so sophisticated that one can easily rely on it to a fault. It is the officers disciplined enough to remain vigilant and who are properly trained to understand the electronics are unreliable who significantly diminish the risks to their vessels, crews, cargo, and passengers.
The officers aboard the Costa Concordia were bored. They were probably over confident. They were likely over reliant on the technology. Quite simply, they got complacent. And when they least expected it the worst imaginable thing occurred.