With the recent tragedy of the Costa Concordia, the facts have not all been collected, rumors have spread, and social media is driving this incident world-wide causing millions of onlookers to make judgment calls. Some of the unfortunate side-effects include an inaccurate determination of the safety of a cruise vacation, or perhaps the judgment of a captain when the facts have not all been laid out. Cruise lines are scrambling to consider damage control, and how this tragedy will impact different cruise companies around the world. Will the Costa Concordia incident sway potential first-time cruisers away from choosing to cruise, or which cruise line they will consider? At this time ( a week or so after the accident) we are still in the heat of the event and an industry that has experience tremendous growth over the last few years, even in a down economy, may have to re-evaluate their economic projections and business strategy to adjust to this new element that will for certain make a sweeping impact in the entire cruise industry.
The greatest threat to ship disasters like what happened with the Costa Concordia is human error. The Costa Concordia was indeed a safe ship, with the latest safety equipment and navigational tools in-place. The Titanic, departed for her maiden voyage in 1912, was a safe ship. Titanic’s nearly identical sister ship, the Olympic, had a long career and was finally scrapped. The Costa Concordia has nearly twenty sister ships built on the similar design, divided between Costa Crociere and Carnival Cruise Line. When choosing a cruise line and ship for your cruise vacation, the armchair onlooker cannot predict which cruise ship is less safe based on the size the ship, the safety equipment onboard or how new the ship is, the real challenge is to follow the safety and incident record of those commanding the ships. Following the history of a commanding officer is also a hefty task for the novice vacation-buyer. There are many elements we can study to help us decide which maritime nation, cruise line, cruise ship, or commander has the best safety record. These complex machines, or floating cities called cruise ships are designed and built by people, commanded by people, and because people make mistakes, human error is always going to be the one unpredictable element, however; history has shown that it’s also these flawed people who, in the event of a disaster, step-up to the challenge to save lives, rescue the fallen, and demonstrate courage. When there is a car accident we don’t stop driving or riding in a car. When an airplane crashes, people don’t stop flying. These tragic incidents are rare and shouldn’t stop people from enjoying the benefits of traveling on ships.
The cruise industry will evaluate and begin to audit their safety procedures. There will be changes in safety requirements, maritime laws, procedures, equipment and safety standards industry-wide, because of the Costa Concordia disaster. The details of the Costa Concordia accident, the actions taken by Captain Schettino, will be fully investigated and we will have answers to the many questions being posed on the news and social media across the internet. Who is responsible when an accident like this occurs? Ultimately it is the Captain who is in command and responsible for the safety of his ship and the lives onboard. Without making any pre-judgments on any one person, particularly Captain Schettino, there was obviously an error in navigation, speed, and course, basically human error. The ultimate authority onboard the Costa Concordia at the time the vessel slammed into the reef, was the Captain. The question now raised is how well did Captain Schettino manage the damage that was done? What was his leadership-style after the accident, and did he effectively fulfill his duty as the Master of the Costa Concordia? These details will begin to unfold in the coming weeks, months and years. What many people don’t know is that the Captain is not required to go down with the ship. When the Captain signals the alarm to “abandon ship”, that means every man, woman, and child should get off the ship. There is, however; a natural duty for the Captain to make every effort to assist in the evacuation of his ship. The Captain is responsible for maintaining proper safety training for his crew, so that in the event there is an accident, under the Captain’s leadership, all crew members know what their role is to evacuate the vessel, and are prepared to follow escape and evacuation procedures. Throughout history, there have been Captains faced with the unfortunate reality that their ship is sinking, and it’s unknown why some Captains are among the first to leave the ship. Are they cowards or are they acting in the best interest of all those onboard by orchestrating an evacuation from a lifeboat or shore side? Common sense seems to indicate the Captain should remain onboard his ship to assist, lead and direct an evacuation. The Captain is the figurehead for which the crew and passengers look to for direction. Perhaps there is a “cultural element” that is not standardized among Captains when it comes to commanding an evacuation of a sinking vessel? If there were different universal maritime standards in-place could this Costa Concordia accident have been avoided? Time will tell as cruise lines now audit their safety standards and procedures.
So for someone who loves to cruise or is planning their first cruise, what are some things to consider in the aftermath of this Cost Concordia disaster? First of all, generally speaking, cruising has been and continues to be one of the safest methods of travel. The benefits of a cruise vacation are vast, so book that cruise, and prepare to have the vacation of a lifetime. In the light of what has happened, however; there are some simple ideas to help you feel more confident about the safety of your cruise experience.
- Immediately upon entering your stateroom, locate your life vest, and escape route usually posted on the back of your stateroom door. Physically follow the directions to your “muster station” and locate your assigned lifeboat. Usually, there is a safety drill for passengers prior to the ship leaving port….this is an excellent opportunity to familiarize yourself with the safety procedures on your ship. Ask questions if you do not understand where to go or what to do in the event of an emergency.
- Always consider travel insurance when planning your cruise. The cruise lines often offer insurance, but you may have better results if you choose an outside insurance broker that specializes in travel & cruise-related insurance. A suggested company is TripInsurance.com where you can compare several different travel insurance packages that will best suite your needs.
- Prior to booking a cruise, choose a major cruise line that is also listed with Cruise Lines International Association, or CLIA. If you’d like to dig deeper online, then visit the “CDC Vessel Sanitation Program” website to investigate any ship you are considering a cruise with.
- Use clear judgment. Follow the instructions of officers and crew. Avoid becoming too intoxicated during your cruise. Never sit or stand on a ship’s railing. Never take it upon yourself to jump off a ship into the water, unless you are specifically instructed by an officer or crew member. Learn to find your way around the ship early in your cruise, take a self-guided tour of your cruise ship. Be cautious when the deck is wet, or it is very windy on deck.