In the wake of the horrible Costa Concordia grounding and deaths of at least 5 people, Cruise Talk offers up the following thoughts on the incident and the overall safety in the cruise industry.
Behavior of the Captain
Early reports seem to indicate that the Captain, against Costa policy, ran the ship against rocks while performing a sail-by salute. In a sail by, a ship passes closer than normal to a land mass and the captain blows the ships horn for the people on shore. Reports indicate that the captain was making such a maneuver when the Concordia hit rocks which crated a huge 30 meter gash in the hull.
From that point on, the ship should have been immediately evacuated, however it seems that the coordination of the orders to abandon ship were delayed and that delay resulted in panic and the inability to lower the lifeboat on the upside of the listing ship. If the ship had been immediately and expediently evacuated, passengers would not have been stranded on the upside of the listing ship.
Reports also indicate that the captain was safely ashore while hundreds of passengers remained stranded on the ship. This action, if reports prove true, would be in direct violation of maritime law, punishable by up to 12 years in prison.
Training of the Crew
From passenger reports the listing of the ship seemed to be something with which the crew was not prepared to handle. The crew on the down side was able to lower their boats, but those on the upside delayed their launch of some boats for too long, until the angle of the list prevented any launch at all. Passengers had to scurry up an electricians ladder and climb onto the hull of the ship to then climb down a rope ladder to rescue boats.
Costa reports in their statements “All crew members hold a BST (Basic Safety Training) certificate and are trained and prepared to emergency management and to assist passengers abandoning the ship with numerous drills.” However, it seems that either they panicked, or that training did not properly prepare them for the unique problems of a listing ship. (Cruise Talk has published Costa’s complete statement here)
It is Cruise Talks opinion that this type of situation should receive more scrutiny by the cruise industry as a whole. We see crew conducting life boat drills all the time during our cruises, but perhaps the areas of decision making and crowd control under times of distress need to be addressed as part of that training. Cruise ship carry life boats and escape rafts in excess of the number needed to safely evacuate all passengers and crew, but if they can’t be launched they don’t help much. Another report stated that the crew was not able to safely drive the boats once they were in the water. One passenger even reported that her driver was so short that he could not see out the driver’s window. That same report said that boats were crashing into each other and even the dock at the safe harbor.
The muster drill was scheduled for the following morning. Perhaps if the muster had been held on the day of embarkation, passengers would not have been as confused about what to do and where to go. The current procedure for muster drills generally call for passengers to report to an indoor muster station and then to their life boat location. I remember a time in earlier days of cruising that passengers reported directly to their assigned life boat number. With a ship carrying 4000 people, perhaps the procedures need to be revised for more efficient evacuation.
What You Can Do
As a frequent cruisers, I must confess I seldom think about a ship sinking. However this disaster has put such a scenario fresh in my mind. Usually when you are on a ship you carry no money, no identification, and no warm clothing. Perhaps it might be a prudent to pack a small emergency bag that one could keep near their life jackets. Within the pockets of the light jackets I would stash some cash, credit cards and identification, possibly a pass port. Usually, emergency instruction include “Put on some warm clothing”. If their is enough time from the sound of the alarm to grab the life jackets and coats, then I would have a few more things already ready to go if we had to abandon ship.
Unfortunately, it is difficult to know what more one could do to insure their own safe evacuation. If other passengers are panicking, then keeping calm can be quite difficult. A few thoughts that come to mind are taking some extra time on embarkation day to understand the lay out of the ship and the different ways to access my muster station. I would also want to have an assigned life boat and an alternative life boat should a list prevent deployment.
What The Cruise Industry Should Do
This incident serves as a sobering reminder that travel carries with it certain risks. It is time for the cruise industry to look at all safety and evacuation procedures. With ships growing ever larger and carrying more and more passengers, it may be time to re-evaluate evacuation procedures. Customers should demand that their cruise lines of choice provide the most extensive and comprehensive safety training, above and beyond what current regulation mandate. The cruise lines should employ very strict policies when it comes to the behavior of their captains. If a Captain disregards regulation in small matters, then wouldn’t he be more likely to make the kind of mistake that this captain made? Cruise lines should maintain zero tolerance policies when it comes to officers breaking procedure.
Fox News ran an interesting article linked here on picking a cruise line for safety
As the search and rescue mission continues, our hearts go out to the families all around the world who have lost loved ones to this tragedy. It is my hope that the industry works as a whole to prevent this type of accident from ever happening again.