This week brought an endgame of sorts to a duo of needless, long drawn out, totally depressing events in the maritime community. And, worse still, one of these resulted in the irreplacable loss of thirty two innocent people. Both are salient events and, hopefuly, neither will bear repetition.

Firstly, an Italian court finally got round to sentencing the hapless Francesco Schettinio to sixteen years in jail for the catastrophic capsizing of the Costa Concordia in 2012, with the loss of thirty two lives. The sinking of the huge, state of the art cruise ship rocked the entire industry to its very foundations.

I’m not getting into assumptions about the length or suitability- or not- of the sentenece. I am not in possession of all the facts, and simply not in a position to make an emotionless, analytical judgement on said facts.

But what I do know is this; having driven his ship dangerously close inshore like some adolescent yuppie, showing off his brand new Maserati to his friends, Schettino wrecked his ship. Far worse, he then abandoned the hapless thousands entrusted to his care and concern, and fled the scene. This action brought on him the immediate ire and contempt of his opposite numbers of the Italian coast guard. Left to organise a spur of the moment rescue mission in the middle of the night, in freezing cold conditions, their courage, ingenuity and devotion to duty stands as a stark, undeniable contrast to the actions of a man who, once confronted with the enormity of his handiwork, cloaked himself in head to toe denial.

Of course, this availed him little. And, with the lengthy appeals process yet to come, we could be up to the centenary of the disaster before the hapless Schettino himself is steered into a jail cell.

But the man is walking wreckage; his career and future prospects are as bright as that of the ship he destroyed. And, while my sympathies remain totally with the victims of this ghastly tragedy, it is impossible for me not to feel a shred of sympathy for the man himself, while retaining absolute abhorrence at his performance as a so-called captain. Enough said.

Casualty number two appears to be the lovely, beautifuly restored MV Funchal, whose entire summer porgramme of chartered cruises was cancelled this week. This leaves the ship- and, by proxy, owners Portuscale Cruises- effectively shackled to a Lisbon pier for the duration of the year.

While the restoration of this 1961 built classic liner was a thing of beauty to behold, the attempt to charter out Funchal and her fleet mate, Porto, has been a disaster. Third in fleet, Lisboa remains half upgraded in Lisbon, and reportedly up for sale. Only the ongoing, successful charter of the veteran Azores to Cruise And Maritime Voyages seems to be keeping the Portuguese operator on life support. But for how much longer?

Words such as ‘blame’ and ‘responsibility’ are academic at the moment. Perhaps Portuscale should have concentrated on marketing and sailing the ships themselves, instead of placing them at the beck and call of a conga line of largely whimsical and capricious charterers.

But, whatever, the company has not been good at engaging and getting across the appeal of these unique, soulful quartet of ships. Despite being two years old, only in the last few months has the line opened a Twitter account, for instance. E-mails to their Portuguese offices have just gone unanaswered in the past- and I’m speaking from personakl experience here.

I think it is these two factors that have largely led to the present situation. Is it too late? I hope not. But a radically different course plainly needs to be set.

Otherwise, we are likely to lose one of the most beautifully original and appealing passenger ships still available to travel on today. Make no mistake; the loss of Funchal would be an act of vandalism on a par with taking a scalpel to the portrait of the Mona Lisa.

Let us all hope and pray that it does not come to that.

As ever, stay tuned.

A pair of less than perfect sunsets are in the offing, it seems

A pair of less than perfect sunsets are in the offing, it seems

One comment

  1. It is always a pleasure to read your posts, Dear Anthony.

    The recent cancellation of FUNCHAL’s cruise program for 2015 is sad indeed, but is only a change of strategy i the way FUNCHAL is being deployed. The PORTUSCALE CRUISES CEO told me that in no way is the FUNCHAL being decommissioned, and in fact, for a significant part of her operating life, from 1976 to 1985 and after that also in part, FUNCHAL was operated by her owners, first CTM (1974-1985) and then The Great Warwick Co. (1985-2010) under charter to several international cruise operators. So let’s hope this fine ship still has many years ahead of her bow in such good shape as I enjoyed this past December and January on the magnificent FUNCHAL cruise to the Atlantic Islands FUNCHAL is an excellent cruise product and she is also a timeless piece of great design and a credit to his creator, Naval Architect Rogério de Oliveira, the 94-years old Portuguese Admiral who created FUNCHAL back in 1958-61 and still keeps an interested eye on his beloved creation.

    Much more than blame the shortcomings of the PORTUSCALE CRUISES organization I would say the lack of success for their direct operation in terms of numbers of passengers carried (because in terms of passenger satisfaction the results have been very high) I would look at the current cruise market and the increasing power of the big companies that want no small competitors around, and they are just getting that, with all small independent cruise companies struggling to stay in business. Look at the DEUTSCHLAND, the last German flagged cruise ship and the pride of the Germans in many ways. Her final passengers left the ship in November 2014 and the DEUSTSCHLAND has been laying idle off Gibraltar with no one interested in purchasing this particularly luxurious, fine and relatively modern classic ship. Or have a look into the recent bankruptcy of ASTOR’s owners, because the charter’s hires generated by ASTOR were too low, just for the charterer, the Greek Global Maritime concern to buy the ship probably for a bargain.

    There is a possibility that in this world of dreams that is ours, where only money and power counts, that there is no longer space for people to accomplish business in a “small is beautiful” way with cruise ships the same way I struggle doing my high quality shipping and cruising books in an independent way. The world history is made of cycles and when I look at the present mighty shipping tycoons, the history and the ultimate fate of Lord Kylsant comes to my mind from time to time. Not that I have any kind of negative resentments against the big ones, but it seems they just go bigger and bigger until one they they blow up. LUIS MIGUEL CORREIA


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