Why lifeboats needed redesigning!

A few weeks ago  I spoke with my friend Bill Garzke, chairman of  the national Marine forensics committee for the Society of Naval architects and Marine engineers.  The topic was the Costa Concordia. Bill said, ” we need to rethink the concept of lifeboats.”  I couldn’t have agreed more since lifeboats (and  the lack of)  were one of the largest issues  in  evacuating  the Andrea Doria. Bill  added that lifeboats have remained the same in the last 100 years.

After reading the article below,  one can  easily enumerate several reasons– mostly technical– why lifeboats as they  presently are designed are a  threat to survival.  Interestingly,  one of the characters in my new novel, I Was Shipwrecked on the Andrea Doria!  the Titanic of the 1950s is proposing  a new concept for ship evacuation.

Do  you have any ideas to propose?   In light of the Titanic,  Costa Concordia,  Andrea Doria  disasters and their  arduous  evacuations how can we improve safety  during threatening situations?

Stoneham couple braced for leap as ship tipped

Couple feared it was ‘the end of our life’

By Chelsea Conaboy


Stoneham couple Sameer Sharma and his wife, Divya, were celebrating their fifth wedding anniversary with a Mediterranean cruise aboard the Costa Concordia. Sharma said the couple believed the photo they took of themselves might be their last one. The Sharmas are one of four Mass. families recovering from the tragedy aboard the luxury cruise ship.


Stoneham couple Sameer Sharma and his wife, Divya, were celebrating their fifth wedding anniversary with a Mediterranean cruise aboard the Costa Concordia. Sharma said the couple believed the photo they took of themselves might be their last one. The Sharmas are one of four Mass. families recovering from the tragedy aboard the luxury cruise ship.

Sameer Sharma shrugged off his superstitious mother’s concerns when, to celebrate his fifth wedding anniversary, he booked a Mediterranean cruise that began on Friday the 13th.

The inauspicious departure date was the only one available, said Sharma, 30, of Stoneham.

Just hours into their voyage onboard the Costa Concordia, Sharma and his wife, Divya, 26, found themselves dangling in a too-full lifeboat that crew members struggled to lower into the water below, the massive ship leaning over them as it slipped further into the sea.

“We felt this was the end of our life,’’ said Sharma, who is a co-owner of Grapevine Travelers wine and spirits shop in Medford.

Sharma told his wife, “Get ready to jump if we have to.’’

The Sharmas are one of four Massachusetts families recovering from a harrowing experience aboard the luxury cruise ship that ran aground, then tipped on its side off the coast of western Italy Friday.

Newlyweds Shawn and Megan Blomgren Burgess of Marlborough were expected to arrive at Logan Airport at 8 last night after a long journey home, Shawn’s younger brother, Nathan, said by phone from his home in Paxton.

Blomgren Burgess, who works at Skinner auction house, called family members Friday night, before the ship’s accident made it into US news reports, to assure them that they had made it to shore, Nathan Burgess said.

The couple, who married on New Year’s Eve, boarded the ship on Jan. 9.

Shawn Burgess, a technical analyst at EBSCO Publishing, told his family that it took about two hours from the point of impact to the time that they stepped into lifeboats with “no direction’’ from crew members, his brother said.

Once the Burgesses were in a lifeboat, the ship tilted further into the water, pinning the side of the lifeboat.

“They thought’’ the ship “was going to fall on top of them,’’ Nathan Burgess said.

Crew members pushed the lifeboat free, he said. The couple, who had their wallets with them but little more, boarded a ferry for the mainland and took a bus to Rome, where they stayed at an airport hotel before their scheduled flight home yesterday, he said.

“They were exhausted,’’ Nathan Burgess said.

Three siblings, Amanda, Adrian, and Brandon Warrick of Braintree, as well as Benji Smith and Emily Lau, newlyweds from Cambridge, previously interviewed by the Globe, also made it safely off the boat.

As scrutiny grew yesterday of Costa Cruises, captain Francesco Schettino, and parent company Carnival Corp. the US Embassy in Rome reported on its Facebook page that 120 Americans were among the estimated 4,200 people who had been aboard.

All but two were accounted for. Gerald and Barbara Ann Heil, a couple from Minnesota, were still reported missing.

Sharma recounted his experience by phone from a hotel in Rome, where he and his wife were recuperating yesterday and deciding whether to proceed with their travel itinerary.

The couple had boarded the Costa Concordia at 6 p.m. Friday and had just enough time to settle into their room and take a short walk before a 9 p.m. dinner reservation.

In the dining room, Sharma said, they ordered a beer and a glass of champagne and began chatting with a honeymooning couple from Argentina when they heard a loud noise and noticed that the gentle movements of the ship had stopped.

Then came the crash of plates and glasses as the ship tilted slightly. Back-up lights came on as the power was cut.

The crew repeatedly told the passengers to stay calm, that they were experiencing electrical problems, Sharma said.

But his concern grew as the ship began leaning more sharply.

The couple returned to their room several floors up, still with no direction from the crew, Sharma said, and they realized that other passengers were already gathering with their life jackets. Their panic grew.

They grabbed life vests, along with their wallets and phones, and returned to an emergency gathering place on the fourth floor, where they could hear noises that sounded like something breaking in the hull, he said.

Sharma said he and his wife took a photo of themselves, believing it might be the last one taken of them.

When they saw their own scared, blank faces, they did it again, this time forcing a smile.

Crew members repeatedly told the crowd that had gathered on that part of the boat, 100 people or more, that they had not received the signal to load the lifeboats, and the passengers grew angry

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. The crew yielded when an emergency siren sounded.

Then came the crush for a spot on the boat, Sharma said. He and his wife were among the first aboard but the boat quickly surpassed capacity and the weight of the passengers stretched the ropes that attached it to the ship, jamming the crank that would lower the boat to the water, Sharma said.

But the lifeboat came loose and landed in the water, then was motored away from the ship’s reach.

Now, Sharma said, that photo they took, seemingly on the edge of the end, is “very, very special for us.’’

“That was the moment where we are both wearing life jackets. We have nothing on us,’’ he said. “It’s only us.’’


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