Costa Concordia: Safety and complacency at sea

Flickr user: Il Fatto Quotidiano
by Louise Goldsbury, editor, Cruise Weekly

The Costa Concordia catastrophe will go down in history as the worst cruise ship tragedy since the Titanic sank 100 years ago.

While the cause is unconfirmed, much blame has been heaped upon the captain and whether navigational disciplines and emergency procedures were adequately followed.

It has been noted that a muster drill (also known as a lifeboat drill or safety drill) had not yet been held for newly embarked passengers.

The drill, which advises on the use of lifejackets, escape routes and where to assemble in an emergency, was reportedly scheduled for 5pm the next day.

Some cruise lines conduct this drill before sailing, but international law only requires it to be held within 24 hours of departure from the first port (and repeated for any passengers who board at a later port).

This leaves thousands of people unprepared for anything that may happen until then.

The other issue is that participation is not always strictly enforced – there is often no roll call or ID cards swiped.

Passenger safety drill (Cruise with Mike)
But even with 100% attendance, nobody can be forced to listen or to fully absorb the information, especially when they are excited on the first day of their holiday.

A further challenge on European ships is that it’s easy to ‘switch off’ when the presentation is repeated in several languages; likewise, in an emergency, it is harder to communicate with so many people of varying nationalities.

However, crew on these vessels are multilingual (especially on Costa, as I observed on my cruise aboard Costa Deliziosa in 2010) and well trained for these moments.

Unfortunately, all of this great training can be futile when panicked passengers are scrambling to get out any way they can.

In the past 25 years, there have been only one similar event (with fatalities) on a cruise ship: in 2007, when Louis Cruise Lines’ Sea Diamond sank after hitting a reef near Santorini, killing two.

Overall, modern cruising is regarded as relatively safe, considering the millions of people carried incident-free.

All passenger ships are equipped with enclosed lifeboats (equal to, or more than, the maximum capacity); cabins and public areas must have smoke detectors and alarms; escape routes are marked by lights; and safety advice is displayed on every cabin door.

The conflict comes when these ships are expected to also provide entertainment, and ‘scenic cruising’ is a popular part of this experience.

Passengers (and spectators on land) enjoy the spectacle of sailing close to shore, in destinations such as the Mediterranean, New Zealand’s Milford Sound and Norway’s Trollfjord.

On this occasion, it seems the Concordia was too close, in shallow water, in the dark – a tragic triple-whammy, but one that can be avoided in the future.

Costa is certain to very publicly review its procedures and crew (including captains) training.

Will the image of the half-submerged ship, and passengers’ harrowing stories and videos, turn people off cruising? Do plane crashes stop people from flying or car accidents deter them from driving? Yes, some. But most will probably see it as a once-off accident, which would never happen to them.

“Will the image of the capsized ship turn people off cruising?”


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