Cruise disaster raises questions of industry safety


FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. — The recent grounding of
Carnival Corp.’s Costa Concordia ship off Italy’s coast left cruise fans
wondering: Could this happen on a cruise departing from the U.S.,
particularly the cruise hub of South Florida?

Experts say chances are remote, but the possibility can’t be ruled out.

“People are likening this to the Titanic, and that
was 100 years ago” before modern ship safety standards were adopted,
said Rod McLeod, a Coral Gables, Fla.-based cruise industry specialist.
“This is a very unique event and surprising.”

Even if a ship had trouble near South Florida, the outcome might be different.

When the MSC Poesia ran aground in the Bahamas after
leaving Port Everglades earlier this month, it was supported by the
area’s shallow, sandy seabed, rather than punctured by rocks. Tugboats
pried the ship loose, and no damage or injuries were reported, MSC
Cruises said.

Here are some red flags from passenger accounts and
experts on what may have gone wrong and what might prevent it from
happening again:

EMERGENCY DRILLS: More than 600 of the roughly 3,200
passengers aboard the Costa Cruises ship had not yet gone through an
emergency response drill when the accident occurred Friday. The safety
briefing was scheduled for the following morning, within 24 hours of
departure as required by international maritime law, according to Costa

“This wasn’t a drill problem. They were following
regulations,” said Stewart Chiron, a Miami-based cruise industry expert
known as ‘The Cruise Guy.’

Ships departing U.S. ports generally choose to
conduct drills before or soon after departure, but that is not law. They
also don’t pick up passengers at ports along the way, as Costa does in
Italy, requiring multiple drills, Chiron said.

Hollywood, Fla., attorney David W. Singer suggests
cruise lines give drills sooner rather than later. “It doesn’t mean
you’re off the hook because you observed the letter of the law,’” Singer
said. “It’s a little inconvenience to the run the test (drill) versus
the great harm that can arise” by waiting.

Cruisers also bear responsibility to pay attention at drills and learn safety procedures.

“Passengers need to recognize there are risks. …
Things can go wrong,” said Ross Klein, a sociologist at Memorial
University of Newfoundland, Canada, who runs He
suggests cruisers make a plan to find family or friends in case of an

guests reported confusion and delays in communicating the seriousness
of the accident and how to evacuate. Announcements in Italian and German
stumped English-only speakers.

Ships departing South Florida would use English for
announcements, although the ships’ TV channels would typically have
safety information in other languages for foreign guests, experts say.

Cruise lines have international standards for
training, but some specialists question how well the Costa staff may
have been groomed and drilled in case of accidents.

Crew members typically hail from many countries, and
all have responsibilities in an emergency, some small such as checking
cabins, others larger such as operating the lifeboats.

“A well-trained crew will respond in a time of
emergency and respond well,” asked McLeod of Coral Gables. “Was the crew
well enough trained?”

In a sudden emergency like Concordia’s, passengers
could have benefited from direct instructions immediately, said Howard
Fine of Fort Lauderdale, a former chief executive officer of Costa
Cruises and Norwegian American Cruises.

passengers said the ship turned fast on its side, which interfered with
deploying some lifeboats. Water entered quickly. Most passenger ships
are not double-hulled, as oil tankers are required to be.

“There needs to be some investigation into why it
listed so quickly. What happened to the watertight doors, the
compartmentalization?” said McLeod, concerned about possible flaws in
the ship design.

Some ships that sail from South Florida were built by
the same Italian company as Concordia and to the same set of
international maritime safety standards. Veteran ship maker Fincantieri —
one of Europe’s largest — also has built Carnival Freedom and Holland
America Line’s ms Maasdam, among other ships, according to its website.

The Carnival Splendor, disabled by a fire in November
2010, was built to the same structural design as Concordia, Carnival

CAPTAIN’S ROLE: Costa officials attribute the
accident to human error by the captain — Francesco Schettino — now under
arrest by Italian authorities. Authorities have accused Schettino of
abandoning ship with passengers aboard.

The captain strayed from the programmed course to
steer closer to shore to show off the boat to island residents, the
cruise line said. Captains have leeway to change a ship’s course because
of bad weather or other perils, but this action was apparently

“If he had followed procedure, and not done the alleged showboating, this would not have occurred,” said Chiron, The Cruise Guy.

McLeod said the captain’s action raises questions of
governance and crew oversight by companies: “We need to look into the
training of captains, the discipline of captains and their evaluations.”

Costa said Schettino had experience with cruise ships
before joining the line as a safety officer in 2002. He was promoted to
captain in 2006 and had no prior navigational incidents during his
tenure with Costa.

On ships that sail from U.S. ports, the U.S. Coast
Guard enforces crew competency regulations through annual inspections.
It can suspend or revoke the licenses maritime officers are required to
maintain for acts of incompetence or misconduct.


©2012 the Sun Sentinel (Fort Lauderdale, Fla.)

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