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Why Cruise Lines May Not Be Safe After All

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Jan. 21st, 2012 | 03:29 pm

Our family cruises. We're almost to the perk level of getting free laundry on Princess Cruises, and we've persuaded nervous friends that they won't get seasick or stranded at sea when they book on one of today's cruise lines. But, the chronic lying, chaos, and blame passing by the brass associated with Carnival Corporation's wrecked Costa Concordia makes even us dedicated cruisers question the overall safety of our vacations. 

The Costa Concordia wrecked

Carnival quickly threw the ship's captain, Francesco Schettino, under the bus saying that the disaster was caused by "significant human error".  Schettino deserves the bus's tread marks. He has endlessly compounded his original navigation mistakes with mind-numbing lies ("I tripped and I ended up in one of the [life]boats"), cowardice, and changing narratives.

The cruise corporation is eagerly promoting the view that the Concordia tragedy is an anomaly.  Their piousness recall Robert and James Murdochs' 2011 assertions that there was only one "rogue reporter" who hacked into cell phones in the scandal that eventually closed The News of the World.  It turned out, that illegal behavior was the norm at Murdoch's news organizations, and the early assurances were meant only to minimize damage to the company and not to fix a problem.

Carnival, like the Murdochs, has more explaining to do.  The corporation needs to reassure passengers that its crews are trained, dedicated to passenger survival (if not safety), and honest. Carnival needs to validate its own dedication to safety over the bottom line, too.

Here are some zingers that stand in Carnival's (and other cruise corporations') way:

  • A former crew member claims that there is a, "... coded alarm which is known by the crew. This is done to begin evacuation without panicking the passengers".  After this coded signal went out, crew were telling passengers not to worry and to return to their staterooms.  If true, this statement seems to say that lying to passengers during a disaster is company policy.  Did any of the dead heed the crew's instructions and go back to their rooms to die?
  • Confusion in a disaster is to be expected. But, confusion among the leaders during a disaster speaks to a lack of training, drilling, discipline, and standards. How could Costa Cruises trust a man like Captain Schettino to command one of its ships?  What ongoing certification does the line require of its officers and crew?
  • Ship's captain's egos are traditionally large.  The cruise lines embrace this tradition by building up their captains to be super-social directors whose job is smiling and posing with passengers.  What proportion of a captain's duties are nautical and what portion are PR related? Are the proportions healthy? Safe? I think we need to know.
  • International law requires that cruise ships be evacuated within 30 minutes.  Unlucky passengers on the Concordia waited more than five hours on deck to be rescued. Some were screaming as the last of the lifeboats left. If the Concordia met safety requirements, then those standards are too weak.  They must  assume an evacuation in a perfect situation when there would be no need to abandon ship. No one abandons ship when everything is working and the ship is upright and sound.
I want to keep cruising. But, I wonder would would have happened if the ship had encountered another problem and sunk at sea and not within site of shore and potential rescuers. Carnival, what can you tell me?

Article first published as Why Cruise Lines May Not Be Safe After All on Technorati.

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