As the view disappeared from the screen of the ship simulator inside Massachusetts Maritime Academy's library, a voice over the speaker announced to those inside the $2 million machine that the simulation was complete.
The Costa Concordia disaster has put the Buzzards Bay school in the international spotlight as media outlets seek expert opinions regarding the Jan. 13 crash.
"We've got the ability with the simulator (to replicate) about 100 points across the world," said Brian Murphy, a simulation technician at MMA.
Since the Costa Concordia ran aground, leaving at least 11 passengers dead and dozens more missing, MMA has tracked the route the ship took and what caused the accident.
"He was so close to land, he was unable to keep the vessel off the rocks," said Adm. Richard Gurnon, MMA's president, as he stood in front of the mock control panel.
A near 360-degree animated scene of choppy waters off the coast of Naples, Italy, projected onto a curved, Omni theater-like screen behind him. The simulation caused participants to rock back and forth even though the ground never moved.
After mapping the accident, Gurnon said a mix of showboating and denial on the part of Francesco Schettino, the ship's captain, resulted in the disaster.
The 4,200-passenger vessel set sail that day from the port of Civitavecchia, near Rome. Less than an hour into the cruise, Schettino steered the ship toward the coast of the island of Giglio while heading north toward Genoa, Gurnon said. Cruise line captains often make an effort to travel near coastlines for views and photo-ops for camera and iPhone-wielding passengers.
"Passenger ship captains may need a more dynamic personality" than cargo ship captains, Gurnon said. "But at no time should a captain put his passengers in jeopardy."
As waiters at onboard restaurants served dinner, they and passengers likely knew the sudden jerk they felt was the result of the ship hitting a rock as it ran aground near Giglio, Gurnon said. Schettino assured passengers, however, that the ship was experiencing electrical difficulties and passengers continued eating.
"He was in denial," Gurnon said.
Schettino later turned the ship around toward a nearby marina and ran the ship aground on Giglio before it began tipping over. He did not declare an emergency until about 90 minutes after the ship first crashed into a rock.
"At that point the ship was in its death throes," Gurnon said. "He squandered the time he had."
International law requires that cruise ships are able to evacuate passengers within 30 minutes, Gurnon said. The evacuation could have been completed in that time, Gurnon said, if passengers were ordered to stand by lifeboats immediately after the crash.
Gurnon called Schettino's claim that he did not abandon the ship and instead fell off, "ridiculous." Gurnon also said a case of a ship captain saving himself before passengers is "abhorrent." But he understands the temptation to leave.
"He is convinced that this ship is going to sink and capsize," Gurnon said. "He thinks that they're all going to die."
Schettino is under house arrest and could face charges related to abandoning the ship and passenger deaths.
News of the deadly grounding proved enough for Patricia Lemme, 56, of Wellfleet to stay on dry land for her vacations. With one bad cruise experience — her ship arrived at its destination port about seven hours late, causing everyone onboard to miss their planes — the Costa Concordia accident was the final straw, she said.
"You think if (Schettino) can make that error, why can't another captain make the same error?" Lemme said. "Between my bad experience and that, (cruising is) just not the way to go."
But negative attitudes toward cruises since the accident haven't slowed the cruise industry, travel experts say.
"We are not seeing any reaction at all in terms of people canceling cruises or fees changing," said Mary Maguire, Massachusetts spokeswoman for the American Automobile Association, which helps customers with vacation plans.
John Lovell, president of Vacation.com, a Virginia-based travel agency network, also sees cruise bookings on par with typical annual trends so far.
"It is much too early to tell how long-term future cruise bookings will be impacted. Early indications are that future bookings are just as strong as in recent weeks," Lovell wrote in an emailed statement. "We have not heard of anyone cancelling cruises that have already been booked."
After going on four cruises in the past five years, Chanda Maraj, 23, of Hyannis sees the Costa Concordia accident as a rare occurrence rather than a likely scenario.
"I've gone on cruises for so many years, and I've never heard of anything like that," Maraj said, adding that most of her friends share her opinion. "I think it was more of the captain's error than anything else."
After stepping off the simulator, Gurnon said that, like other marine disasters, the Costa Concordia accident will likely result in more stringent international safety regulations, such as possibly requiring evacuation drills before cruise ships leave the dock. Current regulations require that the drills occur within the cruise's first 24 hours.
"(Regulations) are written in blood. They're there because somebody died," Gurnon said. However, he maintained that cruises remain among the safest forms of travel.
"Cruise ships are safer than airplanes," Gurnon said. "The most dangerous thing you're going to do on a cruise is drive to the port."January 22, 2012
last updated 10-31-12 by email@example.com