Sinking Ship/Ship Of State

The tragic loss Costa cruise liner is news in its own right and perhaps a metaphor for the future of the Eurozone and maybe the vitality of the European Union itself.   The circumstances of the wreck are still emerging but some facts are clear already and remind us of the historical hazards of travel on the high seas since man first ventured there.

When we glance at a wall map of the world or a globe we see all the major continents, oceans and seas but there are so ramped up  in scale that we don’t see the details.  The coastlines of many areas around the world are honeycombed with countless reefs, shoals, islets that can and have posed a danger to the seafaring.  Some of the earliest examples of writing about this come from Paul in the New Testament when he writes of the shipwreck they endured on his trip to Rome.   The biggest problem is at night when visibility is so reduced you can’t distinguished those dangers until you are upon them.   From the earliest days with sailing ships and even oared triremes to the most modern GPS systems, ships have struck these dangers and gone down without warning in short order.  Most of those wrecks we don’t know about and never will; they are already lost to time and tide and the natural decay sequence of nature.

Some areas of the Med are really bad if you study a detailed map as are certain areas off the west coast of Africa; the danger lurks in the Carribbean and in the East Indies.   Why do you think it was one of the world’s greatest prizes to find a reliable clock for ships so they could better calculate longitude and thus have a clue when they were nearing a coastline and slow down for daylight and stand easy during the night hours?   The British offered that enormous award of 25 thousand pounds during the 18th century for this knowledge.  Yet even today with all our advances it is still dependent upon a captain to have a good sense of spatial relationship with his ships and the other objects in the water near him, both land and other ships.   They have to be able to “see” in their mind’s eye instantly where he is and where the other object is and how they are moving relative to each other.    The good seamen have always had this ability in all ages of seafaring.  It is the captain’s duty to see his crew is trained to give him the needed information accurately and timely so he can chart to proper course to avoid danger.   For millenia captains have also used “pilots” for close in manoeuvring to any coast.  We haven’t heard yet if there was a pilot on board the ship when this accident occurred. The pilot is supposed to know the coast and terrain of that particular ares thoroughly, that is why he is used but the captain can never abandon his responsibility for the ship’s moves.

When a captain is told another ship is 4 miles away from his ship he needs to know what the relationship is.  That means if his prow is assumed to be the 0/360 degree reading, he needs to be told that the other ships is 90 degrees “relative”, that is relative to his direction, not the magnetic reading.  That is why the lookout will give the reading as “relative”.  If the captain need’s to know the true course for both ships relative to magnetic north, then the reading will be given to him as “true”.  Speed of both his ship and the other object is also important so he can determine how fast they are closing on each other or separating as the case may be.

Whatever happened in the wheelhouse of that Costa ship, it is very clear the captain didn’t know where he was relative to the reef and rocks he struck.  Unless he was suicidal he wouldn’t ram his ship into such danger.  The details will emerge in time but he was given bad data or he made a bad mistake or heck maybe even both  facts good be true.  With radar, sonar and the GPS systems in place these days it really hard to see how he got so lost in time and space.   It does make you appreciate the skill of the old navigators with at best a magnetic reading.  Likewise Columbus going into an unknown world and when he realized he was nearing land having the skill to make sure he didn’t crash into a shore during the night. 

The reports early on are that the captain left the ship before the majority of the passengers were evacuated.   If true that is the worst thing he could have done.  He doesn’t have to “go down with the ship” but it is his job, duty and mandate to see to the safety of his passengers before his own safety.  I hope those reports are not true but if so then he should be charged with dereliction of duty and perhaps manslaughter leaving them unassisted.

One hopes the sinking ship isn’t a metaphor for the European bailout(s) that are being formulated over the past year.  The EFSF has already been downgraded by the rating agencies before it has even been fully funded or made advances.  That is if you like bailouts.  Maybe the Europeans might decide that bailouts are worth the cost.  We’ll see.

The sea is cruel and requires rigid rules and firm expectations for the good of all onboard.  Thus the simple message of Nelson at Trafalgar to the fleet.  “Nelson confides that every man will do his duty”.


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Filed under Foreign Affairs, geography, government, history, Mother Nature

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