What happened aboard the Concordia is extraordinarily rare, especially since the cruise industry has been hailed as the safest form of commercial transportation. Within days of the incident, Costa issued a statement saying in part, "While the investigation is ongoing, preliminary indications are that there may have been significant human error on the part of the ship’s Master, Captain Francesco Schettino, which resulted in these grave consequences." Costa has also stated, "The route of the vessel appears to have been too close to the shore, and the Captain’s judgment in handling the emergency appears to have not followed standard Costa procedures.”
Current safety regulationsThe Cruise Lines International Association (CLIA), is the world’s largest cruise association, and its mission is to promote policies and practices that foster a safe and secure cruise environment. CLIA is composed of 26 of the world’s major cruise lines. Safety is CLIA’s number one priority with CLIA members committed to the safe operation of all cruise vessels in their fleets.
The cruise industry maintains an excellent safety record. In 1996, the U.S. Coast Guard conducted a comprehensive safety study that concluded the cruise industry is the safest form of commercial transportation.Last year alone, over 19 million passengers enjoyed safe cruise experiences around the world.
Additionally, Michael Crye, CLIA’s executive vice president of technical and regulatory affairs, recently pointed out that from 2005 to 2011, the cruise passenger shipping industry carried nearly 100 million passengers, but only suffered 16 deaths due to marine casualties during that period of time.
The cruise industry complies with all International Maritime Organization (IMO) standards governing the operation of cruise vessels worldwide. These regulations are closely monitored by both flag and port states. These internationally mandated standards — treaties adopted by the United States government — govern the design, construction and operation of ocean-going vessels and are codified in the Safety of Life at Sea (SOLAS) Convention and its amendments.
Other IMO safety standards which have been adopted internationally include: Convention on the Standards of Training, Certification and Watchkeeping (STCW), which deals with crew training as it relates to safety, The International Convention in Load Lines, and the IMO’s International Safety Management (ISM) Code, which relates to mandatory codes of practice.
Coast Guard inspectionsThe cruise industry cooperates with the U.S. Coast Guard and other maritime nations to ensure the safe passage of passengers. To ensure compliance with SOLAS, the Coast Guard examines each new cruise vessel when it first enters service at a U.S. port. Thereafter, these vessels are subject to quarterly Coast Guard inspections. The examinations emphasize structural fire safety and proper life-saving equipment. Additionally, the Coast Guard witnesses fire and abandon ship drills conducted by the ships’ crew and operational tests are made on key equipment such as steering systems, fire pumps and bilge pumps. The Coast Guard also closely examines the vessels and their operation for compliance with both international and U.S. environmental laws and regulations. The Coast Guard maintains the authority to require correction of any deficiencies before allowing a ship to take on passengers at any U.S. port.
Where do we go from here?At a televised press conference during the Passenger Shipping Safety Conference, a previously scheduled event that began shortly after the Concordia sinking, the head of CLIA said her organization would call on the IMO to implement a comprehensive evaluation of the findings of the Costa Concordia investigation so that the cruise industry remains one of the safest recreational industries globally.
“While there is still a great deal not yet known about this incident, all of our members recognize the seriousness of these events and want to ensure that we apply the lessons learned from this tragic event,” said Christine Duffy, president and CEO of CLIA.
Individual cruise lines are lining up behind CLIA’s call for the comprehensive evaluation of safety regulations. Additionally, many of them are reviewing their own safety procedures. Carnival Corporation & plc, parent company of Costa Cruises and nine other lines including Carnival Cruise Lines, Princess Cruises and Holland America Line, announced a comprehensive audit and review across all of the company’s cruise lines.
They will review all safety and emergency response policies and procedures, officer and crew training and evaluation, bridge management and company-wide response and support efforts. In addition, the company’s Health, Environment, Safety & Security Committee is engaging outside industry-leading experts in the fields of emergency response organization, training and implementation to conduct an audit of all of the company’s emergency response and safety procedures and to conduct a thorough review of the Costa Concordia accident.
Other cruise lines are also informing the public of their already stringent safety standards. For example, Royal Caribbean International released a statement along with a video that lays out its commitment to the safety of the millions of guests and crew that sail on their ships.
Historically speaking, other cruise ship tragedies have led to greater safety guidelines across the industry, on everything from the number of lifeboats aboard ships, to crew experience and discipline, to ship construction.
Travel agents have your safety and well-being in mindOne of the messages that has gone largely unspoken is the importance of utilizing a travel agent. While no travel agent could have predicted or prevented what happened aboard Concordia, travel agents are your first line of defense when travel plans go awry. Thousands of passengers stranded in Italy needed assistance in finding a way home. This included arranging hotel, airline or train tickets, or car rental. Anyone who left their passport or other travel documents behind in the chaos, or incurred water damage, faced an extra layer of complexity and inconvenience. A good travel agent would certainly move you to the top of their priority list and assist in helping you get home as quickly and as safely as possible.