The recent Costa Concordia disaster has raised questions about the safety of cruising and the soundness of the industry as a whole. Have cruise ships become too big? Are staff and passengers adequately informed about safety policies and procedures?
The 15 million passengers who enjoy Ocean cruises every year are testament to the fact that the popularity of cruising is ever on the up, and it seems important to note that the disaster is such big news because of its seemingly impossible nature.
In fact, there has been no such large scale disaster since the sinking of the Titanic in 1912, after which many of the contemporary maritime safety laws were drawn up. So how did things go so badly wrong, and what does it mean for the future of ocean cruising?
Cruise ship captains throughout the world have expressed outrage and disbelief at the behaviour of Captain Francesco Schettino, who is believed to have caused the Costa Concordia wreck by taking a detour off the ship’s authorized course and consequently running into a reef. He then abandoned the liner in the early stages of its wrecking, which goes against the codes of conduct for captains, who are duty bound to stay with their ship until the last passenger is accounted for.
Considered in this light, it seems that the disaster occurred due to an individual’s negligence rather than an issue with the industry. However, the owners of the ship, Carnival, also have some serious questions to answer. Many of the onboard staff were not fully trained in evacuation procedures and at least some of the passengers had not been made aware of them either.
With almost half of the cruise industry under its command, Carnival need to show that they are serious about tightening up their training policies and conducting regular drills to ensure that such a disaster can never be allowed to happen again. Stricter control of routes must also be imposed, as it is thought that Schettino had been given clearance to sail closer to the island of Giglio on previous occasions.
The one useful thing which will come out of this tragedy is that cruise liners will be forced to review their safety policies and procedures, and captains all over the world will be reminded of their duties and the magnitude of their leadership responsibilities. Drills and passenger safety directions will be strictly adhered to, as authorities will be keeping a closer eye on cruise companies and their practises.
It therefore seems likely that the cruise industry will be safer than ever from this point onwards. Indeed, it will need to be in order to regain public trust and continue to thrive. Despite the disaster, cruising remains extremely low risk, and there are a number of tour operators with pristine reputations.
The flawless practise of many captains should not be forgotten, nor the dedication of many cruise operators to provide outstanding service and therefore train their staff accordingly.