There is nothing like a good disaster for getting the cheaper end of the Fourth Estate worked up into a state of blind panic. And, if a potential disaster doesn’t turn out that way, then it can be spiced up with a little “what if”, and comparison to a real disaster thrown in for good measure. Thus it was with the running aground of the cruise liner Costa Concordia in the Mediterranean on Friday.
The more mundane facts are that the liner struck a rock, which tore a large gash in its hull. The ship took on water and began to list. Those on board, over 4,200 of them, mostly got off the vessel by lifeboat, winching away by helicopter, jumping into the sea, or wading off as the Concordia slowly capsized. At present, only five deaths have been reported.
This was not sufficiently frightening for many of those that scrabble around the dunghill that is Grubstreet, and so out came the inevitable comparison to something far worse.”It Was Like The Titanic” shrieked the Express, and on this occasion the Desmond empire was not alone. The Mail also wheeled out the Titanic comparison, and was duly joined by the Mirror.
Even the supposedly upmarket Telegraph invoked the Titanic. So, apart from both incidents involving passenger ships, does the comparison stand any other test? The answer has to be a resounding no. Titanic struck not a rock, but an iceberg, partly because its captain had an eye on securing the Blue Riband of the Atlantic on its maiden voyage, and had not eased his speed despite the poor visibility.
Moreover, his radio operators either shooed away warnings of icebergs from other ships in the area, or failed to get them to the bridge in time. Titanic sank in the open ocean, hundreds of miles from land. Worst, its lifeboats, some of which were not full before being lowered, could only have taken around half the number of those present. More than two-thirds of those on board (over 1,500) were lost.
The Costa Concordia (two and a half times the tonnage of the Titanic) capsized close to shore, in a sea that does not have significant tidal variation. The water was cold, but nothing like the minus 2 Celsius of the North Atlantic in April 1912. Much of the superstructure is still visible. The present death toll represents around an eighth of one per cent of the total on board at the time.
The Concordia will be a total loss: patching the vessel up may prove impossible and she may have to be cut up where she lies. But disaster this is not: almost all those aboard survived. The Titanic comparison may sound suitably dramatic, but is fatuous.
Although, of course, it sells papers. No change there, then.