Could Drug Testing Have Saved the Costa Concordia?

On August 6, 2014, the British newspaper, The Independent, reported that Francesco Schettino, the captain of the doomed cruise ship Costa Concordia had sparked outrage in what can only be termed a stunning twist of irony – by speaking at the University of Rome as a self-styled expert on panic management. This has, of course, resulted in debate and speculation being renewed as to whether the captain did, in fact, give in to the human impulse to panic as he crashed his ship into the rocks, or whether there were other reasons for the disaster.

Rumors Abound

An article in the UK’s Daily Mail by Nick Pisa and Allan Hall that was originally published in March of 2012 is once again getting a lot of attention online. The British tabloid reported that Schettino (frequently referred to in the media a Captain Coward, Captain Calamity, or Captain Crunch) had already crashed a ship in 2010. He apparently claimed that he wasn’t aware of the speed limit when he sailed the Costa Crociere into the German port of Warnemunde, wasn’t informed by authorities of any violation, and besides, there were “probably other factors.”

It’s the possible other factors that got all the press. The Daily Mail claimed to have documents that that suggested both ships were “party boats” with crew members getting drunk and using cocaine regularly and while on duty.

Booze and Cocaine?

A nurse who served as a crew member under Schettino claimed that cocaine was regularly used by crew members. In fact, a hair test on Schettino came back positive for cocaine, but his lawyers requested a second examination, which he apparently passed.

Another former employee claimed that during the two months she worked for Costa, the crew and officers were drunk much of the time. She stated that she frequently wondered who would be capable of saving the ship if an emergency should occur.

The cruise line issued a statement to the effect that they adhere to strict safety measures and do not permit the use of drugs, but did not specifically state what those measures are. Costa further stated that on-duty crew members must abstain from alcohol use for at least four hours before they go on shift.

Did Cost Do Enough?

Because the human body can only process about one drink per hour, it’s quite possible to still be impaired eight or more hours after drinking, never mind four. This standard doesn’t even come close to the strict requirements set out for people involved in the transportation industry in the United States and Canada.

So what more could have been done? In the absence of effective government regulations, cruise lines could (and should) employ drug and alcohol test technicians. There are already numerous opportunities in private industry for qualified people. In fact, right now, the demand for such workers outstrips the supply. Given the huge potential for lawsuits and liability resulting from events like the sinking of the Costa Concordia, on-board drug and alcohol test technicians just seems to make sense.

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