As the monster salvage cranes and industrial pumping machinery prepare to right the ravages of the recent 3,200-passenger Costa Concordia incident, the cruise industry, indeed the travel industry, is still trying to come to grips with what happened – and how.
The numbers remain exposed and grim: 17 deaths, 15 passengers still missing. A captain who jumped ship long before the passengers; a crew too confused to execute orders; a situation that could have been avoided on all accounts.
But the travel industry is responding with hindsight turned into foresight to keep travelers cruising and keep this type of controllable incident from ever happening again.
Christine Duffy, president and CEO of Cruise Lines International Association (CLIA), announced a comprehensive review of the incident in the works. But apart from getting a grasp on exactly what happened and why, the Association has first issued a list of proclamations and policies that will be required of cruise line members going forward.
Among them is the critical ruling regarding muster drills:
New muster policies require drills for embarking passengers prior to departure from port. Although voluntarily initiated by the associations’ members, it exceeds current legal requirements that mandate a muster within 24 hours of passenger embarkation.
“The musters are critical but they are also problematic in their own right on some ships,” says David Yeskel, a travel writer and cruise expert. “And with Costa Crusies in particular you have every announcement conducted in five languages, which can add confusion to almost any situation. But the passengers that boarded in Civitavecchia did not receive a muster drill at all. The law requires a muster within 24 hours of departure but in this case, they had only been on the ship a few hours. So once the abandoned ship order had given there were 700 passengers who even in the best of circumstances would not know what to do.”
Yeskel notes that Costa Cruise Lines spend years honing and perfecting their five-language communication protocol, but in this instance it ultimately worked against them.
“MSC cruises also has a major presence in Europe and operates much the same way,” says Yeskel, “but we expect regulations to tighten up. And not withstanding actions of a rogue captain I doubt we would see the same chaos.”
Costa and MSC embark passengers at different ports along their routes – a practice called interporting, which is unique to these lines.
“Due to certain economic realities these lines need to interport but safety regulations and musters need to be tightened in order to make interporting a non factor in evacuations,” says Yeskel.
“I want stress that cruising is really a safe way to travel,” he adds. “This was a one-off incident that came from a perfect storm of terrible decisions and avoidable mistakes, like most disasters do.”
So far, the industry has not seen significant fallout from the Concordia incident. Carnival Cruise Lines may be adjusting its projection revenues as a result of the liability damages but cruise bookings as a whole have not reflected a fear factor on the part of consumers ready to hit the high seas. Investment analysts have noted cruise fares holding steady. Royal Caribbean, which noted an initial dip in bookings after the incident, has also seen the hoped for correction.
“Already, bookings have started to recover, particularly in North America and the company does not expect that this event will have a significant long term impact on its business,” says Richard D. Fain, RCCL chairman and chief executive officer. “Cruising has an extraordinary record of safe operation but this tragic incident is a reminder that there is no such thing as perfect safety, only perfect dedication to safety. And I can assure you that we strive toward this perfect dedication to safety each and every day. Stunned by the tragedy, we and the rest of the industry are determined to learn whatever lessons we can and rededicate ourselves to continue providing the best and safest vacations for our guests.”