Tuesday 12 December 2017

Cruise disaster film all at sea

WE KNOW from countless documentaries about 9/11 that many eyewitnesses marvelled at how the planes crashing into the Twin Towers was "like something from a movie", an illusion heightened for those watching that terrible day unfold live on television.

This, for better or worse, is the kind of world we live in, where our impressions of life and death are formed by the movies and TV, rather than it happening the other way around.

So it was probably inevitable that someone, sooner or later, would liken the sinking of the Costa Concordia on Friday, January 13 last to the Titanic disaster, even though the cost in human life of the first -- 17 dead and 16 missing -- is miniscule compared to that of the second -- 1,500 dead.

Joe, a young dancer employed on the Concordia, recalled, "It felt exactly like the Titanic." I imagine Joe meant James Cameron's mammoth, semi-fictionalised Hollywood blockbuster and not some more reliable historical account.

His dancing colleague Kirsty (for some reason ship's dancers outnumbered all other voices here) concurred: "I remember thinking, 'It's like Titanic', but then I thought, 'This is not a film, it's real life'."

Ironically, it was film-making technology at its most rudimentary -- the mobile phone camera -- that raised this hastily assembled Channel 4 documentary a few notches above being a crude scissors-and-paste account.

The finger of blame continues to point at Captain Schettino, and maybe rightly so. From the accounts of him given here, he sounds like a vain, preening buffoon. He failed to act early enough and continued to sail the ship for an hour after it hit the rocks, before eventually turning it around and heading for the coast of Italy.

By then it was too late. The Concordia got stuck on a rock shelf and began to list violently to the starboard side. Three of the seven below-deck compartments had been breached (which it's believed also occurred on the Titanic) and water had flooded the engine room and lower decks.

There were enough lifeboats to take every passenger to safety, yet once the ship had tilted, the boats on one side failed to drop properly.

But as the shaky phone-camera footage showed, few among the crew seemed to have a clue about the correct procedure, even after it was clear the ship was sinking. We saw a young woman imploring the panicking passengers to "go back to your cabins" or "remain in the lounges", adding that "everything is under control". They were still being told things were under control after the lights went out, and that it was simply a generator problem.

The tendency in these situations is to withhold the worst of the news from the passengers. But as one maritime expert said, panic could have been avoided, and perhaps some lives saved, if they'd been given the full story from the start.

It's been said newspapers are the first rough draft of history.

Terror at Sea provided compelling notes for a fuller account.

A sniffy critic in one of the British papers last week described the first episode of the weighty (and wordily titled) The World Against Apartheid: Have You Heard from Johannesburg? as "public service broadcasting by numbers".

If that's so, I'm happy to count along with Connie Field's outstanding series.

This second instalment, subtitled Fair Play, took a panoramic look at how the worldwide anti-apartheid movement -- spearheaded by activists like the late Dennis Brutus and British Labour MP and former Northern Ireland Secretary of State Peter Hain, who was born in South Africa -- forced the hypocritical International Olympic Committee to kick South Africa out of the games and utterly derailed the Springboks' tour of Britain in the 1970s.

Hilariously, an embittered former player said, utterly without irony, "They made my life a misery." His life?



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