The Costa Concordia wreck has been a source of shock, anger, and horror since news spread on January 13 that the 952-foot long cruise ship, carrying 3,299 passengers and 1,023 crew hit a rock in the shallows of the Tyrrhenian Sea, off the western coast of Italy. At least 16 people have died, with more still missing, and captain Francesco Schettino is now facing multiple charges for both the avoidable disaster that occurred under his command and his actions after. Schettino is looking at charges of causing a shipwreck, abandoning ship and multiple counts of manslaughter.
Popular Mechanics writer Jerry Beilinson imagined what would happen if a similar disaster occurred not in the warm Italian waters but rather in the Bering Sea. This is not an outrageous thought experiment considering thousands of cruise ships traverse Arctic waters each year.
Beilinson highlights four main reasons to take this question seriously:
1) Maritime traffic in the narrow Bering Strait between Alaska and Russia is continuing to increase thanks to the one-two punch of melting ice and growing economic opportunities, which means cruise ships share the strait with commercial shipping routes.
2) Thanks to a bureaucratic glitch, ship operators off the northern and western coasts of Alaska don’t have to check in with U.S. officials, making it impossible to know just how crowded the strait really is.
3) In the event of an accident, help is very likely far away. Beilinson highlights two cases in which ships that ran aground had to wait for days until help arrived.
4) Getting off the sinking vessel is only the beginning of a series of highly dangerous situations until passengers would be in the clear. Putting the obvious death sentence of being actually in the water for any extended period of time aside, unlike the mass of people who were available to help the passengers and crew of the Costa Concordia, being marooned in the frigid Arctic means your saviors will be in the forms of the U.S. Coast Guard, which would have to use aircraft and sea vessels, and any large number of people who would need recuse would require a C-130 Hercules aircraft, which would have to come from the Kodiak station, 800 miles away.
We recommend you read the entire Popular Mechanics piece here.