7 People Dead and 2 Missing Following Container Ship Crash in Italy

Lipcon, Marguiles, Alsina & Winkleman, P.A

Italy is known for a great many things – good food, fashion, culture, and… maritime accidents? Since the Costa Concordia crashed off the coast of Giglio last year on Jan. 13, the cruise industry just hasn’t been the same, especially in Italy. The Concordia, which ran aground after its captain decided to change course to perform a “salute,” still remains at its watery grave, serving as a testament to the dangers of the open waters and what can happen when crew members fail to follow safe procedures.  But as the country struggles to move past the terrible Concordia cruise ship accident, another tragic maritime incident has taken place, this time claiming the lives of seven people.

According to reports in Italy, the Jolly Nero, a 787-foot-long container ship, crashed into a control tower at the port of Genoa late Tuesday night, causing the structure to collapse. Rescue crews have been searching the rubble for days to find survivors and divers are inspecting the waters in the area, but so far, seven casualties have been reported, several others have been injured and two people are missing.

Much the way the Concordia’s captain, Francesco Schettino, was accused of manslaughter after changing the vessel’s course, which led to the crash and subsequent deaths of 32 people, the Jolly Nero’s captain is being investigated by prosecutors who are looking to push similar manslaughter charges. However, officials believe the most likely cause of the crash was attributed to mechanical failure and so far, there are no definite explanations. The ship has been impounded and investigators seized its “black box” to search for answers.

What we know about the maritime accident thus far is that it occurred during a shift change in the control tower, when 13 people were thought to be inside. The Jolly Nero was maneuvering out of the port with the help of tugboats, and otherwise, there were no unfavorable weather conditions or other extenuating circumstances that could have contributed to the crash. Mechanical failure seems to be a logical cause.

Italian Transport Minister Maurizio Lupi believes there may have been a problem with the ship’s engines or with the tugboat cables, but nothing has been confirmed. A Genoa newspaper called Il Secolo XIX quoted one of the Jolly Nero’s pilots as saying: “Two engines seem to have failed and we lost control of the ship.” However, this wouldn’t be the first time a ship crash is blamed on mechanical issues instead of operator negligence.

The ship’s owner, Stefano Messina, of Ignazio Messina & Co., arrived at the port shortly after receiving word of the crash, and with tears in his eyes, expressed his condolences for the incident.

“We are all utterly shocked. Nothing like this has ever happened before, we are desperate,” said Messina to the media.

Genoa is Italy’s busiest port, averaging about 14 boat and ship accidents a year, but Tuesday’s cargo ship crash was by far the worst ever reported in the area. The impact of the ship was so great, all that was left of the control tower (which was made of concrete and glass) was a broken metal exterior staircase.

Six of the seven victims have already been identified. Maurizio Potenza and Michele Robazza were pilots for the port, and three others, Fratantonio Daniel, David Morella and Marco De Candussio, were coastguard officers. The sixth victim identified was Sergio Basso, a tugboat operator.

Four others were being treated for injuries, two of whom were listed in critical condition. The victims suffered a range of serious injuries, from fractures to crushed limbs.  The identities of the injured parties and of the two victims that are believed to be missing have yet to be released.

Between this accident and the Concordia crash, Italy’s reputation for maritime safety has taken a huge beating.  Yet, despite the number of maritime accidents that continue to occur on a daily basis around the world, we have yet to see a solid plan from vessel operators that will significantly reduce the number of collisions and better protect anyone onboard a vessel or in port from harm.

Once again, we may be seeing an incident that might be related to understaffing and over working of the crew. It is the working belief of our office that this is a major factor in many serious incidents at sea.