With the awful recent events onboard Costa Concordia, come understandably lots of uncertainty and questions. Are cruise ships safe, especially in this age of the new super liners?

Cruising continues to be one of the safest forms of travel today and this incident is extremely rare. It is hard to speculate on what the events were that led up to this tragic event but I’m sure questions will be asked and naturally lessons will be learnt.

I have cruised many, many times and never have I had any doubts about my safety on board, In fact I have always thought the Cruise Industry should be applauded by the measures they take to ensure our safety and comfort. Around 16 million people currently enjoy cruising and the industry is growing fast and is recognised as one of the most safest and carefree ways of enjoying a holiday.

Just to get things into perspective a little – here are the numbers of passenger deaths per billion passenger kilometres.

Air 0.02
Rail 0.9
Water 0.3
Car 2.8
Two-wheeled motor vehicle 112
Pedal cycle 41
Pedestrian 491

But survivors described a panic-filled evacuation as plates and glasses crashed and they crawled along darkened, upended hallways trying to reach safety.

There was no lifeboat drill after the ship’s departure from Citavecchia (Rome), and passengers complained that the crew failed to give instructions on how to evacuate and delayed lowering the lifeboats until the ship was listing too heavily for many of them to be released.

Some passengers jumped into the sea while others waited to be plucked to safety by helicopters, and some lifeboats had to be cut down with an axe.

The International Maritime Organisation’s Safety of Life at Sea regulations, say cruise ships must conduct a safety drill within 24 hours of sailing with instructions on the use of life jackets and how and where to muster in an emergency.

But passengers are not required to attend, and cruise lines vary in how quickly they hold the drill and how stringently they enforce passenger participation.

For example, Royal Caribbean and sister lines Celebrity and Azamara, like lots of other cruise lines all conduct all lifeboat drills before departure. Maybe the rules should be changed so that it’s mandatory for drills to take place before sailing?  You wouldn’t have an airline safety demonstration at 30000 feet would you? And I see this as no different.

In an emergency, the natural human reaction is one of survival, no matter what evacuation procedures are in place. Following instructions given by ship’s officers is vital, but I can imagine it’s ignored when passengers feel the situation is life-threatening. This can be compounded when instructions are given in any language other than their own. Clear communication can make or break any evacuation procedure.

So my thoughts are with everyone involved in this tragic rare accident and I will watch with interest so see how this all unfolds.