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Missing at Sea in Costa Incident: Leadership

Author: Captain Melissa Bert, USCG, 2011-2012 Military Fellow, U.S.Coast Guard
March 5, 2012
Miami Herald


Eleven million Americans took a cruise in 2011. The number will likely continue to rise, even after the recent tragedy aboard Costa Concordia.

Last week, I attended the congressional hearings on the cruise ship industry and passenger safety. Why did people die aboard Costa Concordia? We do not need the casualty investigation to tell us at least one thing was missing that fateful evening — leadership. The disaster was a classic case of poor leadership.

Typical cruise ships sail with 800 crewmembers and 2,700 passengers. It doesn't matter how many inspections or exercises are conducted; in an actual emergency, leadership at the helm is critical.

Yet leadership cannot be measured like life jackets, nor is it the realm of the anointed few. My experience in the Coast Guard as an officer aboard ships, operational commander ashore and Captain of the Port, has taught me that leadership is an essential tool that can be integrated into the culture, the "command climate." Leadership begins with the person in charge who fosters this climate and is accountable. An organization with a great command climate and strong leadership shines in a crisis, as Americans witnessed in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, or more recently on the Miracle on the Hudson.

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