Maritime Accidents, From Newport Beach to Italy

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Two maritime accidents occurred last weekend that could have happened to any one of us.  Locally, a van was floating in the bay after being pushed off the Balboa Island Ferry, and internationally, a cruise ship sunk after hitting a rock.

A minivan that was pushed from the Balboa Ferry is lifted out of Newport Harbor. Photo by August Lightfoot

Let’s start with the floating van from Seymour Beek’s passenger and car ferry service that travels across Newport Harbor from Balboa Island to the Balboa Peninsula.  The ferry service has been operating for decades, and Seymour runs a very professional service with Coast Guard-licensed captains.  His safety record is perfect, yet one cannot anticipate that the driver of a Mercedes may have a bad day to say the least.

Whether becaue of a stuck accelerator or the driver hitting the wrong peddle, but the Mercedes pushed a rental minivan off the ferry and into the harbor.  Luckily, the van floated and local boater Skip Staats was nearby with his dinghy ready for a spontaneous rescue.  Additionally, a ferry crewmember drove into the bay to assist the family escape a visit to Davey Jones’ Locker.  Everyone involved with the rescue deserves to be recognized for their above-and-beyond efforts, and the Newport Beach Police Association deserves kudos for paying for another rental car for the family.

Now this local event was an accident, but the international event was not.

I reported this allision on my radio show, adding that I cannot believe in the 21st century that a cruise ship could hit a known rock.  Really, who was at the conns, and who was not reading the charts or GPS?  This Captain, who also abandoned the ship early, will be charged along with anyone on the bridge who had navigation duties.

Oh, an “allision” is a vessel hitting a fixed object like a rock, pier, or a bridge, whereas a “collision” is two or more objects in motion running into each other.

MSNBC reported that the chief executive of the Costa Crociere cruise line, Pier Luigi Foschi, blames “human error” on the part of the captain for the grounding of its cruise ship off Tuscany.  He says the liner had passed all safety and technical tests in its 2011 evaluation.  He said Costa ships have their routes programmed, and alarms go off when they deviate.

“This route was put in correctly. The fact that it left from this course is due solely to a maneuver by the commander that was unapproved, unauthorized and unknown to Costa,” he said.

He says the company’s main concern was the safety and well-being of the passengers and crew, as well as to ensure fuel doesn’t leak out from the upended hull.

I am in shock and disbelief that a modern-day cruise ship hits a known rock – and my family could have been on that ill-fated voyage.  Of course, grounding the vessel was a smart move by the Captain to prevent sinking at sea.  I teach my new boat owners and Captains in training that if you are sinking then try to run your boat onto the beach, so the people onboard can walk off.

Unfortunately, Costa Concordia ended with people dying in a completely preventable maritime accident.  My unanswered questions are why did the Captain take the boat off autopilot, why did the Captain abandoned ship while passengers were drowning, and why, simply why?

Tip of the week is that I tip my Captain’s hat to Patrick Moore and his Balboa Fun Zone Rides for their support of the Newport Beach 1st Battalion, 1st Marines Foundation’s 2nd Annual Beach Challenge tomorrow, Saturday, Jan. 21.  Everyone can ride the Ferris Wheel for free from 11 a.m. until 1 p.m., and donations will be accepted, of which 100% will go directly to this notable fundraising event.

The Newport Beach 1/1 Foundation provides community and financial support to the men and families of the 1st Battalion, 1st Marines during overseas deployments and when training for the next deployment.

Did you know that the 1st Battalion, 1st Marines is one of the most decorated and distinguished units in the Marine Corps?  The motto “Ready to Fight” not only reflects 1/1’s ability to respond to any crisis on short notice, but also its eagerness to support and defend the rights and freedoms of every American.  You can find out more about the event at

And don’t forget: Tune in to the No. 1 boating radio talk show in the nation, Capt. Mike Whitehead’s Boathouse Radio Show, broadcasting coast-to-coast on the CRN Digital Talk Radio syndicated network every Saturday at noon, Pacific Time and replayed on Sunday at 10 am Pacific.  Join Chandler Bell, Craig Carpenter, and me as we talk about “all things boating.”  You can find the station listings, cable TV channels, live streaming on the Internet, and now available are apps to listen to the show for your iPhone, Blackberry, iTouch, Android, Palm, and Windows Mobile at or

Until next week, Safe Voyages!

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