Archive for January 26th, 2012
The Costa Concordia still lies on her side off the Tuscan coast, with 16 confirmed dead and many still missing. Alaskans know, to their sorrow, that not all ship’s captains are scrupulously careful, not all crew members fully qualified and not all accidents truly accidents.
A Dutch salvage company is struggling to off load the half million gallons of fuel still on the ship, before something fails and another of the world’s pristine marine environments falls victim to industrialization. In this case, industrial tourism.
But as sad as the Costa Concordia’s story is, as tragic as the grounding has already been for the families of the dead and the injured, WC can’t help but imagine the consequences of a similar accident in southeast Alaska, in Prince William Sound, or in Kachemak Bay. Imagine a Carnival Cruise ship laying on her side at the head of Muir Inlet, sunk in a too-close approach to the glacier to give the passengers a thrill. Imagine a ship this size going down in Dangerous Passage on the west side of Prince William Sound because someone mis-read a tide table.
Don’t say it can’t happen. It has. It will again.
Even if the technology were perfect – and it isn’t – human error, whether it drunkenness, showboating or plain incompetence can overcome any fail safes. The problem with making things foolproof is that fools are so ingenious.
As industrial tourism, with its 4,000 passenger ships, penetrates the arctic and cruises through the northwest passage become more routine, the problems will only become more acute.
Sure, there are damage control plans, contingency plans and drills. But you will forgive WC his skepticism. There were plans for oil spills before the Exxon Valdez, and they were worse than useless. The Costa Concordia struck that rock on January 15; as of this date, she still lies there. This shipwreck is in the heavily trafficked, well-developed Mediterranean; can you imagine the chaos if this was in the Beaufort Sea? Thousands of miles from the nearest help, in a much more hostile – and fragile – environment?
Alaska has a … difficult … relationship with the cruise ship industry as it is. But the incontrovertible lesson of the Costa Concordia is that it will happen again, and Alaska once again will be nearly helpless to respond.