Dr. Heinz Schaden, mayor of Salzburg, Austria, sailed on the Costa Concondia for a week of rest and quiet. We know how the story ends, but Peter recently spoke with the mayor to learn about the chaos on board, cases of crew misdirection, and his thoughts on how much of this tragedy could have been prevented.
Peter Greenberg: I’m sure you’re glad to be home.
Dr. Heinz Schaden: I’m really glad to be home. I was lucky to escape unharmed which is not the case unfortunately for quite a few. Also, those passengers that I’m in contact with now that managed to escape, some of them still suffer from psychological wounds. Luckily, I’m in fine condition.
PG: You went on the ship just as a vacationing passenger, correct?
HS: Yes, I planned week of vacation far away from phones. I wanted some quiet, but it ended quite differently.
HS: It was 9:30 pm and I was in my cabin, packing my stuff because it was going to dock in Italy the next morning and all of a sudden everything flew because the ship hit the coast. It was quiet for a few seconds. Then it was like a gigantic earthquake. The ship was shaking and everything flew away. After a few moments, when it got quiet again the lights went out. It was pitch dark which was not reassuring for the passengers.
I opened my cabin doors and found my cabin neighbors in the hall. They were family with young children. As you can imagine, they were very shaken and didn’t know what was going on. After a while we got a message on the intercom which said that there was a generator problem. At that point I noticed that the ship was tilting to the side and that we were taking in water and still the information came over the intercom that said, “Don’t worry. Stay where you are. It’s just a minor technical problem that we have and lights will be on very soon.”
I am still furious about this. None of the lives should have been lost. If the passengers were told to go to your cabins and grab your life vest and go to the deck 4, which is where the boats are, then no life would have been lost. The ship’s improper communication and direction is why some of the passengers drowned in their cabin with their life vests on.
After a while, passengers realized that something in seriously wrong and made up their mind to go to the deck where the boats are. There was no officer there to give instructions or tell the people what was really happening. But people could see something serious was happening, because the ship was sinking slowly and steadily. It was already so late that some of the boats could not be lowered to the water anymore. Only then evacuation began which was about an hour and a half after the collision.