Reports state that as of noon today, the blazing ferry Norman Atlantic has now been completely evacuated, with the death toll now raised to ten people. The 27,000 ton ferry was on a routine voyage from Greece to Italy, with some 478 passengers and crew aboard, when a fire broke out on the vehicle deck in the early morning of December 28th. The sight of the drifting, blazing ferry has become one of the most sobering book ends to what has been, by any standard, something of a benchmark year for travel.
Our minds were focused on the sea back in the summer, when the ghastly remains of the Costa Concordia were raised from the waters off Giglio. There, the grisly carcass finally gave up the last of it’s thirty-two dead, before work began in Genoa on disposing of the hulk itself.
This, and the loss of no less than three major airliners- two from Malaysian Airlines and, just the other day, the jarring loss of an Air Asia flight, have kept the commercial aviation industry firmly in the spotlight, although for all the wrong reasons. Then, just today, a Las Vegas bound Virgin Atlantic flight was forced to make an emergency landing at London Gatwick because of unspecified undercarriage problems.
To the great relief of everyone- not least those on board- that saga had a far happier ending. But, with Al Qaeda now reportedly publishing manuals instructing would be solo suicide bombers on how to single out the best British Airways and Easyjet targets, the year is ending on a note of tension which is at it’s highest since 2001. Meanwhile, in the UK, the powers that be continue to fudge, fumble and prevaricate about increasing airport capacity in the London area. Though there are diametrically opposing views on the best way to proceed here, everyone does agree that some decisive action is needed. No signs of that thus far.
And yet, it is worth recording yet again that commercial aviation is, by far, the safest form of transportation on the face of the planet. For millions of business and leisure travellers, it remains quite literally the only game in town.
At the same time, a gradual drawing down of night trains across several key European routes will simply serve to funnel more people into planes and cars. A Catch-22 situation that shows no signs of any resolution.
These are just some of jarring, saddening and, at times, plain inhuman actions that mark out the end of this most unsettling of years.
Let’s all hope for a better, more harmonious travel year ib 2015, on land, sea, and in the air.