On this bright sunny Sunday, you would have to have a heart of steel not to be moved by the various tributes and commemoration to the sinking of a wonderful ship and the loss of live. It was only a few days ago that I too had sailed back to England and on that voyage, me and my party looked out into the night sea and pondered on the scale of the disaster and why it happened. It was a ship that encapsulated all strata of society, from rich to poor, each with their own stories to tell. There is a scene in the popular film 'Titanic' where the steerage passengers have given way to a wild night on the tiles. Around 1924, my own grandfather travelled to America by sea and he told me that the days at sea were days of liberation - dancing, singing and socialising! How too it must have been for those on the RMS Titanic; how cruel that such joy was cut short.
There are many opinions as to the causes of the disaster; speeding too fast in treacherous sea lanes, 20 lifeboats that could only accommodate 1,178 people, brittle metal and rivets, the Greenland ice waters travelling further south than normal, cold mirages, poor evacuation procedures with the lifeboats not loaded to capacity are just some of the many theories or findings for the great ship's demise. There are further stories of the surviving crew not being paid because their 'contract' had ended when the ship sank; it would seem that they became the beneficiaries of the good people of New York City. The oft mentioned musicians from the ship were actually not employed by the owners of the Titanic - they were agency workers and again, when the ship sank, their families received nothing from the ship's owners. Such was the plight of the musicians families, that a benefit concert was arranged at the Royal Albert Hall. I would guess that 'modern' employment practices are not too far off these examples.
On 24 April 2012, just 9 days after the 100th anniversary of the sinking of the Titanic, I shall be in Brussels to attend a Ships Safety Stakeholders Conference. The reason why this conference has been called is to discuss the safety/evacuation issues following the Costa Concordia disaster. We only discovered that a wider ship's safety consultation was taking place, when the powers-to-be announced that they were having urgent consultations following the Concordia incident; it raised the suspicion in Consumer campaigner's minds that perhaps the issues of cruise ship's safety were not really worthy of a wider consultation, feeding only off the collective thoughts of shipping companies and their owners. I am pleased that the Commission has recognised the need for Consumer oversight, but I suspect in the cold light of day, when everything is finally known about the Concordia incident, there will be resonance with the RMS Titanic on some key issues; will we have learned anything or are we still subject to the 'bottom line' of these powerful companies?
It is as well to remember that the Concordia is the the closest yet to a 21st century 'Titanic' - if such an incident were to have had the same result of the 'Titanic', we would be examining in detail what gave rise to the cruellest of all holiday complaints.
So on this bright sunny Sunday, let us reflect on the lost 1,512 live's and their dreams with some of the words of William Whiting:
"Eternal Father, strong to save
Whose arm hath bound the restless wave
Who bidd'st the mighty ocean deep
Its own appointed limits keep
Oh hear us when we cry to thee
For those in peril on the sea"