As someone who enjoys cruising, the Costa Concordia tragedy sure has me rattled. According to USA Today, 11 passengers are currently known to be dead and 21 are still missing. A modern ship, launched only five years ago at a cost of $565 million, is partially submerged in the Tyrrhenian Sea off the coast of Tuscany, Italy. This accident threatens to become a serious environmental disaster as well. It's easy to see why confidence among even the most robust cruisers has been shaken. Surely, there are lessons to be learned.
At the moment, however, it's hard to understand how so many things could have gone amok at once, including:
In a case of the buck stops there, the ship's captain has been vilified and labeled "the most hated man in Italy." But the confluence of all of these problems suggests culpability of more than one individual and raises broader safety questions that need to be addressed by the courts, regulating bodies, consumer advocates, and the cruise industry.
Appropriately, Carnival Corporation, a major player in the industry that owns nine lines (including Costa Cruises), has launched "a comprehensive audit and review of all safety and emergency response procedures across all of the company's cruise lines." It will take some time to understand exactly what went wrong and how these problems can be redressed to restore public confidence and avoid future disasters.
As editor-in-chief of Cruise Critic, Carolyn Spencer Brown recently wrote a powerful editorial entitled, After Concordia: Is Cruising Safe?. In an exclusive interview, Life Goes Strong asked this seasoned cruise observer some basic questions about cruise safety and its governance:
Who establishes regulations and standards for the cruise industry? Does this vary based on the ship's registry?
The International Maritime Organization (IMO), a United Nations agency, establishes regulations and standards. These don't vary based on registry. There are a base of rules and requirements that all lines abide by, but there is also the opportunity for lines to go above and beyond the standards.
Does the U.S. have any regulatory jurisdiction over ships, including those registered in other countries?
Ships that call on US ports are subject to US requirements such as Coast Guard inspections, Centers for Disease Control inspections, etc. But there are ships that never reach US ports that are not subject to those inspections.
Given modern technology, how could the hull of the Concordia become so compromised by hitting rocks and the ship list so badly after the crash? How could there be no auxiliary lighting system?
That is the overlying question of this entire tragedy. The ship was built to safety specifications. The hope is that an answer will be found through the ongoing investigations.
Do you think that the industry may rethink ship size in reaction to this tragedy?
This is not related to the size of the ship. In fact, I think the newest, biggest ships out there are safer than anything else because they've adopted new technologies. Crews are trained to handle issues specifically so that ships do not have to be evacuated; I cannot remember the last time passengers had to be evacuated from a ship; it is extremely rare.
What lessons does this tragedy potentially hold for the cruise industry in terms of rethinking safety procedures, ship construction, and training of crew?
The changes that I see having the most potential to occur are related to muster drill standardization and the 24-hour muster drill rule being amended so that it takes place much earlier. It may not come immediately, but I can see those being reevaluated. As for ship construction, that opens a dynamic conversation that could be applied to safety. For crew training, I believe there is a psychological aspect that has yet to be fully explored, but I do see a need for that aspect of training.
What lessons does this tragedy hold for passengers? What steps can cruisers take to minimize risk and enhance their own personal safety each time they board a ship?
You are responsible to some extent for your own safety, and this is stark reminder that the muster drill is held for a reason. Look at the back of your cabin door, see where your muster station is, and be sure to pay close attention during the muster drill. And after that, relax and enjoy your holiday – hopefully you won't have to think about safety issues again.
About Carolyn Spencer Brown and Cruise Critic:
Cruise Critic is an interactive online community comprised of five million avid and first-time cruisers who enjoy the fun of planning, researching and sharing their passion for cruising. Carolyn Spencer Brown, one of America's leading cruise journalists, has been editor of Cruise Critic since 2003.