Out to Sea for Feb. 18/12
(c) By Jim and Barb Fox
To cruise, or not to cruise.
That’s a question even veteran cruisers are asking themselves with the shipwreck of the Costa Concordia off the Italian island of Giglio last month.
Even as the cruise line industry tightens its safety procedures – with more rules and regulations for sure to come – it’s a haunting spectacle.
The harrowing images of frightened passengers scrambling for their lives and the recovery of 17 bodies with 15 still missing have sent shudders throughout the industry and public.
| In better times, the Costa Concordia is shown on its Mediterranean sailings.|
Twelve Canadians survived what was to have been an idyllic Mediterranean sailing from Civitavecchia, near Rome, to Palma de Mallorca, Spain.
Accounts from the Friday the 13th incident suggest anything that could go wrong did and was further compounded by a lack of a properly organized evacuation of the some 4,200 passengers and crew.
Police arrested “showboating” Captain Francesco Schettino whose attempt to perform a close sail-by salute ended in tragedy when the ship crashed into a reef, ripping apart the hull.
He faces charges of manslaughter, causing a shipwreck and abandoning the ship before everyone was rescued.
|The doomed Costa Concordia|
The abandon ship command wasn’t given until more than an hour later when the ship was badly listing and in danger of sinking. Lifeboats on one side of the ship couldn’t be lowered and passengers became trapped by that time.
Images of the ship on its side with a loss of life bring back memories of the Titanic – 100 years ago on April 15 this year – and the Andrea Doria in 1956.
There were 1,517 deaths on the Titanic on its maiden voyage when she struck an iceberg and sank in the North Atlantic Ocean.
The Andrea Doria, an Italian liner, collided with another passenger ship and sank with the loss of 46 lives off the coast of Massachusetts.
Ironically, Titanic was owned by White Star Line that merged in 1934 with Cunard that became part of Carnival Corp., Concordia's owner, in 1999. That makes the Titanic and the Concordia distant corporate cousins.
Carnival offered “sympathies and heartfelt condolences” along with a compensation package from Costa of about $14,400 but most people are suing instead.
|Costa Concordia had one of the largest spas at sea, with an expansive pool deck extending over two decks and a retractable domed roof.|
Canadians aren’t deterred
A public opinion poll says most Canadians aren’t worried about taking a cruise with 71 per cent of respondents believing this was an isolated incident.
The poll by Ipsos-Reid found 29 per cent said, however, this has put them off cruising and suggests to them that there are bigger problems on board.
“Accidents such as this one are an extremely rare occurrence in the cruise industry and cruising continues to be one of safest means of travel among all types of vacationing,” Cruise Lines International Association (CLIA) said in a news release.
From 2005 to 2010, cruise lines carried nearly 100 million passengers with just 16 deaths related to marine casualties, it said.
So far, there has been a drop of up to 20 per cent in bookings for cruises among all the lines since the disaster.
|The colourful Europa Atrium was a popular spot aboard the Costa Concordia.|
Pass the muster
It has been a cruising tradition to hold the “muster station (life-boat) drill,” shortly after boarding and before sailing.
In the case of the Costa Concordia, the drill wasn’t to be held until the next morning after the ship left port so many people were unaware of what to do that night.
The industry has now adopted a policy “requiring mandatory mustering for embarking passengers prior to departure from port” instead of within 24 hours after sailing, CLIA reports.
Even with many cruisers shunning these “bothersome” drills, the most effective were on ships, such as Holland America, requiring passengers to put on their life jackets and go to their muster station as they would in an emergency – and attendance was taken to ensure compliance.
It was reported that a passenger was put off a Holland America ship for failing to take part in the drill in the past couple of weeks in Port Everglades.
Some ships, however, have only herded passengers into a lounge to watch a video presentation without their life jackets.
There’s also an industry-wide “operational safety review” underway with a “comprehensive assessment of the critical human factors and operational aspects of maritime safety.”
Carnival has now also launched an audit and review of its safety and emergency responses for all its lines.
Time will tell how the cruise industry will weather this storm.
“We do know that the cruise industry is resilient and will continue to make cruising a popular vacation choice for the North American traveller,” CLIA said.
For updates on the Concordia situation and new safety measures, go to www.cruising.org
Jim and Barb Fox can be reached at email@example.com