A Maritime issue on the ballot!

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Key West Committee for Safer, Cleaner Ships
Advertising in favor of Key West ballot initiatives

Actually, the maritime issue isn’t on our Newport News ballot… it is on the ballot of Key West, Florida. However, the future of cruise ships in the world of Covid-19 may be on the minds of many citizens of port cities that welcome them.

Cruise Ships Face the Voters

This week I was on vacation in the Florida Keys — our first outing since the pandemic struck! I was very excited and pleased to get away from work (which I LOVE!) and the non-stop election coverage (which I love rather less). So when we arrived in Key West, I was taken aback to see the intersection of both the elections and my maritime life on signs all over town! Here is one of them:   Read more

Concordia Flies the Blue Peter!

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Papa
Papa (formerly known as Blue Peter), courtesy of easyflags.co.uk.

For the first time in over 2 years, the raised hulk of the Costa Concordia hoisted the Blue Peter, the flag now simply known as Papa that indicates a ship is ready to sail. And so, tugs rotated her and headed nor’nor’east and away from the coast of the Isola del Giglio. Exceptional photographic coverage of the moment can be found here.

It is strange coincidence that led to our cataloguing a book just yesterday on the Concordia that was published in 2006. Entitled simply Costa Concordia, this lovely book by Tiziana Lorenzelli gives the reader a great sense of the splendor of the liner just after it was launched. It was clearly the pride of Costa Crociere, the cruise ship company that had the liner built. This book is rather haunting to me in the same way our Titanic materials are. People died aboard this ship, and it is hard to square the beauty of it with its terrible fate and the tragedy of 32 lives confirmed lost.

She Floats!

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Well, actually, she doesn’t. The Costa Concordia, that is.

We have been covering the shipwreck and massive salvage operation of Concordia since almost the very beginning of our Port of Call blog. Bill Edwards-Bodmer brought it to our attention in a short post on January 16, 2012 (see it here). At that point, no one knew that 2 1/2 years later, that ship would still be off of the island of Giglio.

It has been a very long road, but this morning crews pumped enough air into the sponsons welded onto the sides of Concordia to float the hulk about 6 ft. off the underwater platform where it had been sitting on its bottom since last September. The sponsons are floating, and they are carrying the ship up with them. The BBC has an excellent time-lapse video at their site now up that shows the entire operation, from refloating to moving the wreck about 30 meters further away from shore, where they have moored her with heavy chains to the sea floor.

With no evidence so far of any quantity of the toxic soup sloshing around inside the hulk leaking out, engineers and the entire island are breathing a sigh of relief.

Now the end is in sight. The National Post reports that towing to Genoa, where Costa Concordia was built and where she will be broken up, will begin next week. Stay tuned!

Costa Concordia News

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Several pieces of news have recently broken relating to the Costa Concordia disaster.  Here is a brief summary of the latest news, to help you readers understand the current status of the Costa Concordia.

Divers Discover 5 More Bodies

Last week salvage divers discovered 5 more bodies among the cruise ship’s wreckage, bringing the confirmed death toll of January’s accident to 30.  Two passengers are still missing and are presumed dead.

Removal of Costa Concordia’s Fuel Complete

Also last week, salvage crews announced that they had completed the operation to remove the fuel and oil from the cruise liner’s tanks.  The vast majority of the fuel has been removed, and salvors say that the small amount remaining poses no environmental threat.

Removal of Costa Concordia Expected to Take One Year

Costa Cruises announced that now that the fuel has been removed, a new stage of the operation can begin.  Costa is reviewing bids by six different salvage companies to remove the wreck, and expects to make a decision in mid-April.  Once a company has been selected, the full removal of the wreck is expected to take between 10 and 12 months.

SS Normandie vs Costa Concordia

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The wreck of the Costa Concordia

The Costa Concordia disaster is not the first time a large cruise liner has come to rest on its side.  To some who are well-versed in maritime news and shipwrecks, the images of the cruise ship Costa Concordia lying on her side off the Italian coast might look familiar.  In 1942, a top-of-the-line cruise ship, the Normandie, was undergoing conversion to become a troop transport ship in New York Harbor when she caught fire and capsized, coming to rest on her side, much like Costa Concordia.

Harvey Ardman’s Normandie: Her Life and Times, from the Library’s stacks, provides a very detailed history of this legendary ship.  Construction began on the Normandie in early 1931.  At the time she would be the largest ship ever built: 1,029 ft. long with a maximum breadth of 119 ft., weighing in at a staggering 27,675 tons.  Compare this to Costa Concordia‘s 952 ft. long and 116 ft. wide.  Normandie was launched in October 1932, then spent three years being outfitted for her maiden voyage in 1935.

Normandie’s designers placed great emphasis on comfort and decor for first-class staterooms.  According to Ardman, in terms of square footage, 75% of the Normandie was dedicated to lavish first-class cabins and other first-class accommodations.  No other ship, before or since, has dedicated so much to first-class.  In fact, Normandie’s popularity was called into question, as the majority of Americans who made up the boom in cruise tourism could not afford to travel on such a luxurious liner.

The Normandie would not live out her life as a luxury liner for the rich and famous, however.  In 1939, following the outbreak of World War II, Normandie was interned at New York Harbor.  Two years later, when the United States entered the war, the US Coast Guard seized control of Normandie.  She was renamed USS Lafayette, and her conversion to a troop transport ship began in January, 1942.

One month later, on February 9, sparks from a welding torch operated by one of the workers fell onto a stack of life jackets made of a highly flammable material.  Because the ship was still being converted, the woodwork had yet to be removed, and the fire spread quickly.  The ship’s fire suppression system had also been disconnected during the conversion, and American fire hoses did not fit the ship’s French outlets.

Hours later, the New York Fire Department considered the fire under control, but the sheer weight of the water pumped  onto the ship caused it to list to port.  Late that night, with fire crews still keeping watch, Normandie suddenly capsized completely, coming to rest on her side at an angle of 80 degrees.  As she rolled, Normandie nearly crushed a fire boat under her immense weight.  The terror felt by New York firefighters could not have been unlike that felt by the passengers aboard Costa Concordia.

Here is where residents of Giglio, Italy, as well as Costa Cruises, hope the similarities between Normandie and Costa Concordia end.  The wreck of the Normandie sat in New York Harbor for over a year.  Finally, in what is perhaps the most expensive salvage operation in history, Normandie’s superstructure was removed and she was righted in August, 1943.  It wasn’t until 1946 that she was finally sold for scrap.

If the tale of the Normandie is any indication, the residents of Giglio can expect the wreck of Costa Concordia to mar the beautiful coastal skyline for quite some time.  Italians can take solace in the fact that salvage operations on Costa Concordia began a mere month after the disaster, rather than a year.  If you would like to learn more about the fascinating story of the Normandie, pay a visit to The Mariners’ Museum Library and check out Ardman’s Normandie: Her Life and Times or any number of our other resources.