I attended a press conference yesterday set up to answer some of the questions being asked in the wake of the Costa Concordia accident.
Although the panel could not speak specifically about the accident nor the circumstances surrounding it, they did address some of the key issues being discussed about cruising today.
The number one concern is of course safety, and the panel – all leading experts in their respective fields – did not shirk away from the topic.
As Christine Duffy, president and chief executive of CLIA (The Cruise Lines Industry Association) said: “Safety is the cruise industry’s number one priority,” while calling on the International Maritime Organisation – which regulates the sector – to investigate the Costa Concordia accident thoroughly.
The aim is of course to reassure passengers that all is being done to maintain the very highest of safety standards – but with the best will in the world – very little can be done when a captain goes off course, as seems to be the case here.
Safety was divided up into various themes, all of which have been discussed in the media over the past few days. Here’s a round-up:
Dr Tom Allan, an independent consultant to the maritime industry, said that the rules allow for a list of 20 degrees:
“When it gets more than 20 degrees the Master (the Captain) has to make a decision on whether to launch them.”
2. The “safe return to port” rule
This is the rule which says the best lifeboat is the ship itself and if possible the ship should make it to the nearest port after an accident. In most accounts, it looks as if this is what Captain Schettino was trying to do. However this rule only applies to ships built after 2009. Dr Allan conjectured that the IMO might change this to cover ships built pre-2009.
3. Ship size – are ships too big to be safe?
I tackled this in my last blog, but here are a few comments from the experts, who generally regard this as a bit of a red herring:
“I would dispute the assumption that a big ship is inherently more dangerous than a smaller ship,” said Dr Allan.
“I don’t think it makes any difference what the size is. Sometimes on a big ship you can include more safety features than a smaller ship.
“A big ship’s stability is no different from a smaller ship. With the larger ships you actually have a bigger platform to organize an evacuation and ensure survivability.”
Captain Bill Wright, Royal Caribbean’s head of marine operations, made the point that the ships are “scaled”, so the lifeboats are bigger.
4. The crew
A number of stories are saying that the crew was inadequately trained to deal with this type of situation. Richard Evenhand, a crew training expert, confirmed that all crew receive a “comprehensive package of training”.
Costa Cruises’ owner, Carnival Corporation, has announced a root and branch review of its safety procedures in the light of the accident, which I believe will go a long way to reassure passengers.
But last word must go to Captain Wright, who straying slightly off the strict script, and responding to comments about whether it’s maritime law for a captain to go down with his ship (or at least stay on board until the last passenger is safely off), said:
“It’s an unwritten rule of the sea and I find it hard to understand the circumstances where that is the case why the captain left the Costa Concordia before everyone was evacuated.”
• Read Adam’s last blog on Costa Concordia