USM students: Cruise ship disaster could have been prevented - WLOX.com - The News for South Mississippi

USM students: Cruise ship disaster could have been prevented

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HANCOCK COUNTY, MS (WLOX) -

Some USM students have an interesting perspective on the Costa Concordia cruise ship that crashed off the coast of Italy. They are in a graduate program, learning how to map the oceans and other water ways to help ships navigate safely.

Even though the ship's captain is being blamed for the fatal accident, the students believe the tragedy still could have been prevented.

"As you can see, it skirted this area of blue water where it's less than 10 meters and the ship's draft is about 10 meters," Professor Maxim Van Norden said as he pointed to a map charting the path of the Costa Concordia.

His USM graduate students have been closely watching the Costa Concordia catastrophe since the cruise liner rammed into a reef near Tuscany Friday.

"This is not the first time the captain had done that same stunt. It's just the first time it resulted in a disaster. So I think it's kind of a management issue as well," one student commented.

The 15 students are in the Hydrography Program, which deals with mapping the sea floors.   That information helps ships steer away from rocks and other navigation dangers.

"The biggest mistake was the captain running too close to the shore," said Abel Dean, a hydrography surveying student.

"The vessels I've been on, they've stayed clear of shoal waters and navigation hazards," said another student.

While the Costa Concordia crash is being blamed on human error, the students and instructors said many maps being used by mariners today are outdated. The director of the program said much of the data was collected before 1940.

"A vast majority of the earth's waters are inadequately surveyed," said Kenneth Barbor, Hydrographic Science Research Center Director. "It could be old data and that rock could have been missed. If the charts that were collected maybe were old, maybe they need to be updated. Clearly the captain didn't take that into account."

And he said with modern electronic chart systems, the ship should have sounded an alarm to alert the crew of hidden hazards ahead.

"I would say his intention was to get close to the island, that he overrode those alarms or ignored them," said Barbor.

The students said the disaster points to a need for more accurate maps, and they realize that their future jobs could help prevent this tragedy from happening again.

"It's not about having a good career. It's learning about how to save lives, because people's lives depend on what we do," said Dean.

The Hydrography program is based at Stennis Space Center in Hancock County. Students who have graduated from the program have responded to several natural disasters, like Hurricane Katrina and the earthquake in Haiti two years ago. Their charts have helped ships carrying relief supplies navigate safely.

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