The Concordia accident won’t change my cruise plans and I want to take a few minutes to comment why.
First, I want to acknowledge the extent of the tragedy. I can’t imagine the pain and suffering of the families who lost loved ones in this horrible tragedy. I believe that this incident is the largest loss of life on a modern cruise ship. (Other maritime accidents have resulted in much higher loss of of life, even into the thousands, but most of those accents occurred on older ships or ferries, not modern luxury cruise liners. Wikipedia keeps a comprehensive list of Maritime Disasters. )
Modern cruise ships have many safety and navigational measures that should have prevented this type of accident. There are definitely quite a few questionable actions on the part of the Concordia captain and the delay of the evacuation of the ship. Perhaps most tragic is the fact that people were told to return to their cabins and that everything was under control. I speculate that passengers who could have been safely evacuated might have been sent below only to become trapped by the rising waters. We will learn more as the recovery mission continues.
Cruise Ships Still Very Safe
The main reason that I will still cruise is that cruise ships are still very safe. Here are a few of the safety facts provided by the Cruiselines International Association:
- Cruise ships are comparable to secure buildings with 24-hour security. Every person on board a cruise ship, from the captain to the cleaning staff and all guests, are placed on official manifests. When sailing to or from U.S. ports , these manifests are provided to U.S. federal law enforcement officials – prior to the ship’s departure – to compare to U.S. databases.
- Guests should be very comfortable with the security measures they see during their cruise vacation. These include the screening of 100 percent of all luggage, carry-ons and provisions coming onto our ships. Screening is done with X-ray machines, metal detectors and human and detector dog searches.
- Passengers and crew may embark or disembark only after passing through security. Once a ship is underway, access is strictly limited to documented employees and fare-paying passengers.
- Each passenger is issued an identification card which contains their digital photo and personal identification information on a magnetic strip that he or she must present when entering or leaving the ship. This technology allows the ship to know which guests and crew members are on board and which are not.
- Each cruise ship has a dedicated security officer and staff whose sole function is the security of its passenger and crew. Typically, security staff personnel have former law enforcement or military background and are trained according to international security regulations.
- Foreign crewmembers on ICCL ships are required to obtain a visa issued by the U.S. State Department for entry into the United States. This visa requires the completion of a background check. In addition, cruise ship employees are pre-screened by recruiting agencies.
- Cruise lines operate within a legal framework under which international, federal and state authorities investigate crimes on board cruise ships. Unlike most instances of shore side crime, the FBI has the authority to investigate and prosecute alleged crimes in international waters involving Americans.
- The U.S. Coast Guard has jurisdiction for inspection and enforcement of international safety and security standards for all ships calling at U.S. ports. In a 1995 study, the U.S. Coast Guard determined that cruising was one of the safest modes of transportation available.
Look at the Statistics Objectively
It can be difficult to find unbiased information on the cruise ship industry online. Websites with safety information seem to be run by either pro cruise industry associations like the CLIA, or by Attorneys who specialize in suing the cruise ship companies. The media and litigation attorneys tend to portray cruise ships as unseaworthy disease ridden death traps. My personal experience tells me that that nothing could be further from the truth.
Though Noro-Virus does strike some vessels, only about 1% of passengers come down with Noro-Virus, and most cases are transmitted among land based institutions. Yet news media outlets will wait on the dock to interview passengers departing on a ship that has been stricken with an outbreak. Should nursing homes and elementary schools receive the same scrutiny when someone gets stomach flu? Maybe they should, but you rarely heard about Noro other than cruise ships.
When an unfortunate incident occurs like a passenger falling overboard, the media often sensationalizes the story. While I don’t diminish the anguish of families who loose a loved one in this way, those who are considering a cruise need to put those incidents in perspective. About 12 million people will take a luxury cruise in a year. While no death or disappearance is ever a small matter, the statistics show that people who cruise are probably safer than they would be in any land based vacation or even their every day lives. For comparison sake, in the United States there are 12 automotive related deaths per year per 100,000 people, and approximately 33,000 deaths per year. Another statistic that puts the number of cruise ship deaths in perspective is that in a year, approximately 18000 of the 300 million Americans die in accidents in their own homes. That is approximately 1 death for every 16,000 people.
However, I find that even the large media outlets tend towards the sensational when it comes to reporting tragedies on cruise lines. The 20/20 report that aired last Friday on ABC, states that prior to the Concordia incident, in the past seven a years, there have been only 16 maritime accident related deaths out of 100 million passengers on cruise ships. However, even this report sensationalized some of those tragic cruise ship incidents. The show aired a brief report on Costa Concordia and then showed unrelated videos and interviews that were supposed represent the typical issues and problems with the industry as a whole, wild parties and drunken out of control passengers. It also included interviews with people who have lost family members at sea. This report really seems to emphasize the negatives with interviews with only a handful of sources. In my opinion the report is not balanced, but our readers can watch it and judge for themselves:
Cruising Will Be Safer Following This Accident
I believe that the cruising industry will be safer following this incident. The cruise industry responds to the demands of their customers. Passengers will no doubt more intently pay attention during their muster drills and demand more specific information from the cruise liners about their evacuation procedures. The lines will no doubt place more strict navigational requirements and enforcement of those rules. Passengers can be diligent about observing the behavior of senior officers and reporting any perceived inappropriate actions to the cruise line. The cruise industry will surely be more diligent in vetting their captains and insuring that those captains put passenger safety has their highest priority.
Cruising is Still My Favorite Vacation Option
I have been cruising for vacations since I was a child. I love the sea, the vistas, the ever changing scenery, the excellent service, and the friendly fun atmosphere on board. I have met some of the nicest people on cruises and made lifelong friends. I can’t say that about any other type of vacation that I have taken. I also realize that a cruise ship is a moving vehicle and has certain risks associated with the fact that it is a mode of transportation. However, when I take a look at the objective facts, I come to the conclusion that cruising will always be my vacation of choice. I may be accused of being a bit of a Pollyanna because I love cruising so much, but I do believe that it is one of the best vacation experiences available today.