It took me a long time to actually decide to write about this issue, with as the dust, or should I say water settling around the Costa Concordia tragedy and the headlines beginning to disappear, I could not help wondering what this will all mean for cruising in the years to come and what lessons need to be learned.
One of the first things I want to say is how shocked I was to find how inaccurate and variable much of the reporting was in relation to this tragedy, clearly causing further unnecessary confusion and misinformation.
Without question, something terrible went wrong to have caused this tragedy, with the death of several people, but we do have to recognise that more than 4,000 people were saved, with that no mean feat, as that is lot of people.
Having said that, reports have said that it was chaos on board the vessel and I believe that may have been brought about by the news that no lifeboat or muster drill had been held since leaving Civitavecchia, with it also appears many passengers simply not knowing what to do or where to go, when this incident occurred.
All crew on board will have to have had a Basic Safety Training Certificate and will have received ongoing training in emergency management and assisting passengers to abandon the vessel, with in addition, the company saying that every two weeks all crew members perform a ship evacuation simulation.
The mystery is therefore, why the passenger lifeboat drill was not held when the vessel left Civitavecchia and having experienced a Costa cruise on the Concordia’s sister vessel Costa Fortuna a couple of years ago, we experienced the same scenario, when sailing from Venice. The boat drill on the Costa Fortuna was not undertaken when we left Venice, but after we left Bari, which was the first port of call on the second day of the cruise.
At the time that seemed very strange to us, with the lifeboat drill on all previous cruises always being held before, as soon as we left port, or very soon after.
I spent some time on the bridge of the Costa Fortuna and asked the Captain about this apparent safety anomaly. He responded something to the effect that it was not a requirement under maritime law to do so, to which my response, rather tongue in cheek at the time but sadly seeming highly relevant now, was whether that meant ships did not sink in the first 24hrs, to which he laughed and did not continue the conversation.
There appears to be no question that much of the confusion could have been alleviated and perhaps potentially lives saved, if the boat or muster drill had been performed, before or as the vessel left port, but definitely before it was well underway, with it reported that drill was to have taken place at 5:00pm the next day, a whole day after sailing for Civitavecchia.
Based on my experience of the Costa Fortuna, I was incredibly impressed with the overall quality and cleanliness of the vessel, which appeared very well run. I was also very impressed with the engineering and technology, including on the bridge, with the whole vessel a superb masterpiece of engineering, albeit a very large vessel.
I therefore find it hard to understand how all that technology could have allowed such a thing to happen to the Costa Concordia, with it now increasingly appearing to be down to the Captain of the vessel. Hopefully, analysis of the black box data will give us a clearer picture of what actually eventuated.
In terms of the future impact of this disaster on cruising at large, we should remind ourselves that from past experiences, memories are very short and people soon pick up where they left off, with life soon getting back to normal.
Cars accidents don’t stop people driving, aircraft crashes do not stop people flying and previous cruise vessel incidents, including Sea Diamond sinking off Santorini in 2007, have not stopped people cruising.
Yes, Carnival’s and Costa’s share prices will go down as they have and clearly there are some serious questions to be asked within those organisations and the cruise industry in general, regarding what happened and the apparent failure of the systems in place to prevent scenarios like this happening in the first place and also most importantly……….never again.
In addition, whichever regulatory body that says that the lifeboat drill need only be held within the first 24 hrs, needs to dramatically and speedily revisit and change that regulation.
Costa Chairman and CEO Pier Luigi has not held back in laying the blame firmly on the Captain and I imagine within a major corporation as Carnival, with clear communication structures in place and tons of legal advisors, Snr Luigi must have watertight information to have made such claims.
The bottom line is though that carrying passengers on ships is amongst the world’s most regulated and safest activities, with regulations regularly updated and improved, for example the Safety of Life at Sea 2010 regulations, which have meant many older ships being taken out of service as they do not comply.
The reality is that tragic incidents like this are very rare indeed and in my opinion, this one is highly unlikely to have any impact whatsoever on the ongoing, burgeoning demand for cruising.
Industry Insider Commentary and Opinion by John Alwyn-Jones, Global Travel Media Special Correspondent