When A Cruise Ship Crashes, How Much Does Cleanup Cost?

European Commission DG ECHO, Flickr

When a crash or accident happens, there are the immediate, often horrendous, effects, like death. But in the face of destruction, there are the long term effects that many of us never give a second thought to. Like the removal of wreckage.

Such is the case with Costa Concordia, the cruise ship that capsized off the coast of Italy in early 2012, killing 32 people. Since then, the boat has remained grounded, partially submerged in the waters near the Tuscan island of Giglio, and a constant visual reminder of the travel tragedy. Certainly not “out of sight, out of mind.”

But next month, the boat will rise from the seas, to remove the wreckage and start the restoration process of the surrounding waters.

At 114,500 tons, removing the Concordia is no small feat, and will require cables attached to hydraulic pumps that will help lift the wreckage from the seabed and onto an underwater platform. From there, repairs will be made to the submerged sized, and eventually giant steel boxes on the sides of the ship will be pumped full of air, in theory floating the top to the top of the water. A detailed example of how all of this works can be found on the restoration project’s website.

Overall the salvage work is coming in at $400 million, which some might say is a small price to pay for the horror and pain caused by the accident.

Video: Skydiving accident uncut (graphic)

Like most other people out there, I was nervous before I went skydiving for the first time. That whole ‘jumping out of a plane thousands of feet above land’ thing kind of got under my skin. Every jumper’s worst nightmare is to be involved in a skydiving accident, but those fears are usually brushed off by other people’s reassurances of, “Dude, that never happens”. But sometimes it does.

Chris Colwell’s first-hand helmet video of his own skydiving accident that left him quadriplegic made me cry the first time I saw it. And then I cried again the second time I saw it. It’s hard not to be hit with difficult-to-handle emotions when you watch this video. It is tragic. But Chris’ attitude post-accident is admirable. He remains positive to this day and has a YouTube channel worth checking out.

WARNING: This video is not easy to watch and it may contain content not appropriate for children.

Winter weather still causing travel delays in Germany

Hamburg, Germany, germany, weather, winterTwo weeks ago we reported how winter weather had caused travel delays in Europe. One of the worst-hit areas was Germany, with thick ice on the roads, canceled flights, an an overworked rail system.

Now it appears Germany’s bad winter isn’t over. Cold temperatures and thick ice on the roads has prompted Berlin’s fire brigade to declare a weather state of emergency. Yesterday about 180 people were injured because of falls or auto accidents. One crash involved a tour bus and 30 people were injured. Numerous flights have been delayed or canceled. Other parts of Germany are also affected, although the capital appears to be the hardest hit.

Current conditions in Berlin are cold and foggy, meaning that the ice won’t be going away anytime soon. If you’re travel to, from, or within Germany over the next few days, be sure to check ahead to see if your plane, bus, or train is running on time. If you’re driving, get chains and go slow.

[Clever photo of snowy Hamburg courtesy user Alexsven via Gadling's flickr pool]

Three nights in a haunted hotel room


The best thing about being an agnostic is that you don’t have to live your life fearing the unknown. The worst thing is admitting the possibility that there might be something to fear after all.

Instead of pretending to have all the answers, my belief system ranks things in order of likelihood, and ghosts are pretty far down the list. Not as low as Santa Claus or the “we never landed on the Moon” conspiracy theory, but a poor ranking nonetheless. So when I heard that my hotel room in England was supposedly haunted, my only thought was that I’d bagged a good story for Gadling.

Unlike a lot of supposed hauntings, this one’s actually based on a true story, related to me by local historian and folklorist Steven Wood.

Back in 1906, Haworth, Yorkshire, was holding its annual gala. Like in other years, brass bands played, entertainers wowed the crowd, and food stands sold all sorts of delicacies. This year, however, the people of Yorkshire had been promised something special. Lily Cove, a famed “aeronaut”, was going to do a death-defying parachute jump from a balloon. This was only three years after Kitty Hawk, so nobody in the area had ever seen an airplane, and balloons were a rarity too. Seeing a lovely lady jump from one and land safely was something of a miracle.

Lily Cove stayed at The Old White Lion Hotel in Room 7, the very same room I had. While waiting for a day with good weather the glamorous aeronaut made many acquaintances in town and became very popular.

On June 11 the weather was fair and thousands gathered to see her performance. After she and her manager Captain Frederick Bidmead checked the balloon, she secured herself to a trapeze hanging from the bottom. The balloon soared into the air with Lily waving to the crowd with a handkerchief. The idea was that once she got to a good altitude, Lily would leap from the trapeze and a ripcord would open up her parachute. She’d then float gracefully to earth.

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The balloon floated over the fields. After it got up to about 700 feet Lily jumped. The parachute opened as planned, but one witness saw Lily shrugging her shoulders and a moment later she detached from her parachute and plummeted to the ground. Farmers rushed to the spot, but she was dead. Her broken body was carried back to her room, my room, and laid out until a coffin could be made for her.

The whole town went into mourning. Captain Bidmead, a veteran of 83 parachute descents, said he might never fly again. At the inquiry he gave the opinion that she’d deliberately separated herself from the parachute. He suggested that because she was drifting towards a reservoir and didn’t know how to swim, she decided to get to the ground early. She must have thought she was much lower than she was and could land without injury. Others said she committed suicide, but there seemed no reason for this. The court ruled that Lily Cove died of “misadventure.” Parliament soon banned parachute performances so such a tragedy would never happen again.

According to local ghost story collector and guide Philip Lister, it wasn’t long before guests began reporting strange happenings in Room 7. Some woke up with a start, thinking they were falling through the air. Others saw an attractive young woman standing at the foot of their bed. The sightings have continued to the present day, and everyone in Haworth knows of Room 7’s reputation.

I didn’t hear any of this until I had spent my first night in the room. Tired from a day’s travel from Madrid, I slept fine, although I woke up once, glanced at the clock, saw it was 4:10, and went back to sleep.

The next day one of my travel companions told me my room was haunted. She started telling me the story but I stopped her. I didn’t want to be subject to suggestion. I wanted to test Room 7, and not have my own mind play tricks on me. The conversation turned to ghosts stories in general, and over the course of the day four of my nine travel companions told me they’d seen ghosts at least once in their lives. I was amazed. These educated, quite sane travel writers were telling me in all seriousness that they’d seen spirits. Nearly half of our group had a story to tell, and I didn’t even get around to asking all of them! Apparitions from the beyond are more common than I supposed.

The second night I slept fine again, although I briefly woke up again shortly after 4am. I think it was 4:08, but I was too sleepy to be sure.

By my third night I’d heard the whole story. I even went on a ghost tour, which I’ll describe in my next post in this series. So when I tucked myself in I knew just what had occurred to that poor woman who had stayed in my room. Once again I saw nothing, except I briefly woke up and looked at the clock.

It was 4:11 in the morning.

Waking in the middle of the night isn’t unusual for me, but I never wake up at the exact same time three nights in a row. Is this significant? Well, by the third night I was wondering if I would again awake shortly after four, so that might have been autosuggestion. The time seems to have nothing to do with the haunting, since Lily did her ascent at seven o’clock in the evening.

So was Lily Cove waking me up? Probably not. The tricky thing about ghosts is they’re unprovable. Even if I’d awoken to see a spectral woman at the foot of my bed, that wouldn’t prove anything except I had a weird experience that could have been a hallucination. Yet ghost stories are found throughout history and in most if not all cultures. We seem to need ghost stories. That doesn’t necessarily mean there’s life beyond death or that dead people occasionally come back to scare the crap out of the living, but it does show ghosts are a part of the human experience. What they signify is something we’ll probably never know, and not knowing is far more interesting than pretending you have all the answers.

Don’t miss the rest of my series Exploring Yorkshire: ghosts, castles, and literature in England’s north.

Coming up next: The good old days were horrible!

This trip was sponsored by VisitEngland and Welcome to Yorkshire, who really should have put someone more impressionable in Room 7.

Parents’ worse nightmare: Their child is in trouble overseas

For the past couple of days, two stories have been appearing in various forms in the media–one splashier than the other, but both are what parents nightmares are made of. These are the situations they hope they don’t get a phone call about. One is about Amanda Knox, the college student who is in an Italian jail waiting to see if she will spend years there if she’s found guilty for murdering her roommate in a crime that reads like an outlandish tale– perfect for a murder mystery novel. Evidence is not conclusive.

The other story is about Devon Hollahan, an English teacher who vanished from the streets in Frankfurt, Germany at two in the morning when his friend was asking for directions after they attended a Portugal and the Man concert. Hollahan was about twenty feet away from his friend whose back was turned just long enough for Hollahan to disappear unnoticed.

In both cases, the parents of Knox and Hollahan, two people in their early twenties, are part of heartbreaking scenarios and a testimony to the worst that can happen when children grow up past childhood and travel miles past their parents’ admonitions to be careful.

Such news is hard enough when it happens within ones own country. When it happens in a foreign country, parents find themselves in positions dealing with horrific situations in places that may have different procedures than their own country. The legal system in Italy works differently than the one in the U.S., for example.

Knox’s parents and Hollahan’s dad jumped on airplanes in order to offer help. Being on the same side of the Atlantic is a start. It’s a way to be involved, to take action–to have a role in an outcome even if the action does not turn up a positive result.

Hollahan’s dad is not hopeful that his son will be found alive but the dad’s presence in Frankfurt is surely helping the investigation. Hopefully, he will not have to wait long to find out some answers. I can’t imagine what it would be like to take a trip back across the Atlantic without knowing.

In Knox’s case, the verdict will be coming soon. Her family is hopeful they’ll be bringing her home with them. Again, the alternative seems too dreadful.

Both parents’ stories are a reminder that when we travel, it’s important to keep in mind the loved ones we have left at home. Although there are no guarantees when we get up in the morning that our day will go swimmingly well without a mishap, when taking on a particular adventure or experience keep in mind that it’s better to keep ones wits about you and not let your guard down without being aware of your circumstances.

Consider the thought, if this situation goes wrong, what would my parents do? On the other hand, life in one’s own country is risky as well. Life is risky business. In Knox’s case, though, who would have ever dreamed up such a story?