These are far from being isolated incidents. The greatest loss of life at sea during peacetime came from a collision between the MV Dona Paz and the oil tanker Vector in 1987, which killed 4,341. Only one apprentice crew member was monitoring the bridge, other officers were allegedly drinking beer and watching television, while the captain was watching a movie. The cruise ship MTS Oceanos sunk in storms off South Africa in 1991 after setting sail with a 10cm hole in a watertight bulkhead, loose hull plates and check valves stripped for repair. Then there is the Exxon Valdez which hit the Prince William Sound's reef with the captain accused of drinking and the tanker's radar reported broken for over a year.
"The human element is known to cause in excess of 80% of ship casualties," says Captain Peter Holloway, managing director of London Offshore Consultants Ltd. And yet crew undergo far less assessment in areas like psychological tests then an airline pilot would. "The main bulk of training is on-the-job and a number of tests and exams leading to the master's certificate," says Vassalos. "Operational monitoring and decision support is only embryonic in ships whilst a crucial part in aviation."
This may change in light of the recent events surrounding the Costa Concordia. The International Maritime Organization has said it will consider tightening the rules for overriding of onboard safety warning systems and examine power within the chain of command. It has yet to announce its findings.
According to the official transcripts of the US Senate investigation into the Titanic, 1,517 lives perished in a wholly avoidable collision. The good news is that the disaster revolutionised shipping safety, the bad news is that there still is a long way to go. We might have seen a host of increasingly sophisticated innovations and safety features over the past one hundred years, but one thing is certain: no-one would dare repeat Franklin's foolhardy boast.