January 16th, 2012
The first interviews of survivors - and the first impressions of people across the world - of the ill-fated Costa Concordia cruise liner that ran aground and tipped over in Italy are yielding predictable comparisons to another tragedy.
"Have you seen 'Titanic'? That's exactly what it was," said Valeria Ananias, a 31-year-old Los Angeles schoolteacher aboard the ship who crawled along nearly vertical hallways and stairwells in a desperate attempt to reach rescue boats.
Are such comparisons to a 100-year-old tragedy fair? Accurate? It seems that the world views the Concordia through a prism of fact, myth and fantasy that surrounds the Titanic, largely because of the popular movie that came out in 1997 and is being re-released in 3D this year.
Just ask the handful of people visiting "Titanic the Experience," a tour through recovered artifacts and replicas of the famed ship in Orlando.
"When I saw the Concordia on the news this morning, this is what I thought about," said Tom Keill, a Pennsylvania tourist who took the Titanic tour Sunday morning. He and his family shuffled past rooms that recreated first-class cabins, past the lavish replica staircase, past an actual deck chair that once sat on the vessel. (The restrooms in the museum are described by staff as being "through the gift shop, behind the wall and past the iceberg.")
Keill, like virtually everyone who has seen the movie, has thought about what they would have done during such a disaster - and now the Concordia allows us to update and refresh those thoughts. The vessel hit a reef or rock just off the coast of Italy, leaving five people dead and sending hundreds more searching for a way to escape as the boat tipped. Authorities said 15 people remain unaccounted for.
"It looked like it was sheer panic on the Concordia," said Keill, whose two young sons are "really into" Titanic history, which is why the family visited the exhibit while on vacation.
His son, 6-year-old Tyler Keill, was a bit more philosophical after walking past a piece of the Titanic's hull and a large piece of white frost meant to replicate the iceberg that the Titanic struck.
"It's really sad that the Titanic is history," Tyler said to his mom while in the gift shop that sells Titanic replica china, jewelry and 100th anniversary mugs. "But life goes on and we learn from our past."
But have we?
The Titanic and the Concordia have many similarities.
The Titanic was the biggest ship built to date in England at that time - and the Concordia was the biggest ship built so far in Italy. One crashed into an iceberg, the other, a reef or rock.
Christened in 2006, the Concordia was the largest and most luxurious in the Costa cruise fleet, boasting bars, restaurants, a gym, large spa and several lavish suites.
In its day, the Titanic had similar amenities - although there were more severe class differences on the Titanic, and the chasm between first- and third-class passengers was enforced by class-only eating, sitting and mingling areas. In today's cruising world, the passengers in the $199 cabins on the weekend cruises out of Miami can, and do, sun themselves alongside the folks in the $3,000 suites.
The Concordia was slightly larger (952 feet to the Titanic's 883 feet) and both had a top speed of 23 knots. Ominously, both had issues with their christening, and believers in superstition may attribute the ships' tragedies to it.
Before a ship's maiden voyage, it's common for a dignitary to "christen" the vessel by breaking a bottle of champagne on the hull for good luck.
The Titanic was never christened. The Concordia was christened during a ceremony when the ship came online, but the champagne bottle never broke. After each tragedy, people wondered whether the lack of a proper christening was a bad omen.
Read more at The Associated Press.