One cruise line CEO has called the grounding of the ship Costa Concordia, which struck rock off the coast of Isola del Giglio in Italy January 13, “a defining moment in the history of the modern cruise industry.” Indeed, despite cruising’s historically excellent overall safety record, the accident has prompted calls for safety reviews and already has caused two major cruise ship companies to announce procedural changes.

 
 

To date, 16 passengers are confirmed dead and another 16 are missing after the ship, which set sail with about 3,200 passengers and 1,000 crew, gashed its hull around 10 p.m. and began to list severely. The order was given to abandon ship and deploy the lifeboats. Other details have not been confirmed as the incident remains under investigation and the captain—who reportedly took the ship off its scheduled course—remains under house arrest. (Find a comprehensive review of how salvage operations might be carried out, including compelling illustrations of different scenarios, in this article from Toronto’s National Post.)

Speaking at a media briefing January 19 during the 2012 Passenger Ship Safety Conference in London, Christine Duffy, president and CEO of the Cruise Lines International Association, called on the International Maritime Organization “to undertake a comprehensive evaluation of the findings from the Costa Concordia investigation so that the cruise industry remains one of the very safest recreational industries globally.

“Cruise liners are, per passenger, one of the safest forms of recreation,” she said. “Ships are designed, built, operated, and maintained to meet international laws.” These laws originally were developed by the International Convention for the Safety of Life at Sea (SOLAS) and they are administered by the International Maritime Organization, a United Nations agency. The IMO’s Marine Safety Committee meets yearly to update cruise ship regulations.

“While there is a great deal still not known,” Duffy continued, “all of our members recognize the seriousness of this event and want to ensure that we apply the lessons learned.”

In fact, two cruise ship companies have quickly done that: RCCL (parent of Royal Caribbean International, Celebrity Cruises, and Azmara Club Cruises) and Prestige Cruise Holdings (parent of Regent Seven Seas Cruises and Oceania Cruises) officially changed their policies regarding passenger muster drills, mandating that these happen on the first day of the cruise, regardless of embarkation time.

Current regulations require only that passenger muster drills (in which passengers practice emergency procedures including finding their respective muster stations) be held within 24 hours of departure. In the case of late departures, therefore, the drill is sometimes held the morning after a ship sets sail. “However, in light of the recent tragic event,” stated Robin Lindsay, executive vice president of vessel operations for Prestige Cruise Holdings, “Oceania and Regent have adopted a new policy that requires all muster drills to take place on day of departure.” RCCL instituted a similar mandate.

The muster drill had not yet taken place on the Costa Concordia when the ship ran aground.

Meanwhile, Carnival Corp., parent company of Costa Cruises, has announced “a comprehensive audit and review of all safety and emergency response procedures across all of the company’s cruise lines.” The review will cover “all safety and emergency response policies and procedures, officer and crew training and evaluation, bridge management, and company-wide response and support efforts.” (Carnival also owns Carnival Cruise Lines, Holland America Line, Princess Cruises, Seabourn, AIDA Cruises, Cunard, Ibero Cruises, and P&O Cruises.)

In a blog post, Royal Carribean President & CEO Adam Goldstein wrote, “The Costa Concordia accident is a defining moment in the history of the modern cruise industry. We will need the results of the authorities’ investigations to truly understand and respond to all of the implications. But we do not need to wait for anyone or anything to underscore the preeminent role of safety in the daily life of every cruise ship and of the industry as a whole.”

Visit Royal Caribbean’s Web site to see a video about that cruise line’s safety standards and training. Most cruise line Web sites include comprehensive explanations of safety policies and procedures. The CLIA Web site also offers a comprehensive look at cruise industry safety standards.

Christine Duffy, president and CEO, Cruise Lines International Association, led a media briefing January 19 in London, during the 2012 Passenger Ship Safety Conference presented by Riviera Maritime Media.

“Maritime incidents are extremely rare,” Duffy said. Nevertheless, CLIA has asked the IMO to evaluate the Costa Concordia accident and make recommendations as necessary to ensure that the cruise industry remains safe.

Duffy convened a panel of experts to answer media questions: Vice Admiral Sir Alan Massey, CEO of the U.K.’s Maritime and Coast Guard Agency; Richard Evenhand, managing director, V.Ships Leisure Inc., the passenger-managing wing of V.Ships, a third-party ship-management firm; Captain William Wright, SVP, marine operations, Royal Caribbean International; Richard Johnson, technical director of the International Tanker Owners Pollution Federation; and Dr. Tom Allen, consultant and marine safety expert, and chair of CLIA’s Cruise Ship Safety Forum.

Here are some of the questions asked during the briefing:

Will the cruise industry ensure that safety drills are done in port rather than after departure?
Captain William Wright: “In the vast, vast majority of departures, the muster does happen prior to the ship letting go lines and leaving port. There have been examples … where, because of the timing of the departure, the drill is done the following day, which is in keeping with existing regulations. Undoubtedly that’s a practice that will come under some scrutiny.”

Are today’s ships too big to be safe?
Dr. Tom Allen: “I would dispute that. I don’t think it makes a difference what the size is. Because they are bigger, it gives you more flexibility to include other safety initiatives… You actually have a better platform to organize evacuations and to ensure the survivability of the ship.”
Sir Alan Massey: “I speak as the U.K.’s regulatory authority on safety standards, and I think the point to emphasize is that whilst it’s quite easy to jump to the conclusion that big ships with large numbers of passengers and crew are by definition going to be riskier, I would point out that safety standards have kept pace with the growth in size of ships, and numbers of passengers and crew. We are satisfied that things like stability, evacuation processes, lifesaving appliances, and firefighting provisions, all of these things make survivability much more likely irrespective of the size of ships.”

What about the length of time it takes to evacuate a bigger ship?
Captain William Wright: “Regulations require an evacuation to occur within a finite period of time. Even though ships are larger, the evacuation routes and the lifeboats themselves are scaled in accordance with the size of the vessel. I do not see the size of the ship jeopardizing the flow of the evacuation.”

Will there be a review of captains? How do we know that the captains that are out there now are competent enough to deal with a crisis?
Captain William Wright: “The industry is highly regulated. The requirements for a cadet to progress to becoming the master of a ship of any size typically requires four years of university-level education, and once you have your theoretical/technical education, you have to go through a very long process of working your way up through the ranks. So by the time you are fortunate enough to be master of your own ship, you’ve been all the way up the ladder from the very lowest position. It is quite a long and tedious process.”

Is there a case for greater scrutiny of vessels’ voyage plans?
Dr. Tom Allen: “The voyage plan is usually agreed beforehand. If there is a change to that on the bridge, by the master, that is probably within his control. The regulations wouldn’t cover that specifically… whether that needs to be looked at further is part of the request that [CLIA] has already made to the IMO to look at the conclusions that might come out of [the Costa Concordia] inquiry.”
Captain William Wright: “I would add that standard maritime protocol and training…mandates that not only do you follow your voyage plan but if there should be an alteration to that voyage plan for any reason, you go through an automatic two-person check. [The change] is verified for its appropriateness by not just the captain himself but by the entire bridge team.”

Is the notion that ‘the captain goes down with his ship’ outdated?
Sir Alan Massey: “There is no basis in international law for the notion that the captain goes down with his ship—or even that he be the last to leave the ship. Individual companies might have their own policies, which is fine. But seen from a regulatory perspective, I think there’s more myth than reality to that notion.”
Captain William Wright: “Being a captain myself … that is an unwritten rule or law of the sea.”

Will training of shipboard hotel staff be reviewed?
Richard Evenhand:”There has been a call to IMO from [CLIA] for all aspects of this to be reviewed and that certainly is one of the elements that will be looked at. There are comprehensive packages of training for hotel crew. They do receive training prior to embarkation and further onboard. But this, I’m sure, will be part of the review that we’ll see over the next few months.”
Captain William Wright: “Every week on cruise ships extensive emergency training drills are conducted, and we try to introduce as much realism into those drills as we possibly can. Ships have an emergency plan, and in that emergency plan, every single crew member has a specific emergency instruction, telling them this is where they go and this is what they do. That is drilled on with all of the crew every single week.”

What is a timeframe for recommendations for the industry as a direct result of the Costa Concordia?
Dr. Tom Allen: “There will be two processes; one is international and the other is by the industry. Internationally, we have the [IMO’s] Maritime Safety Committee meeting in the spring of this year. I would assume that the Italian maritime authorities would have submitted a preliminary result and, with that, various recommendations. The opportunity will then be given to other member states to put forward any initiatives that they feel could come out of the incident, and then it would be up for IMO to debate and come up with new international legislation if they believe it is necessary.
“In the meantime, the cruise industry, and I do chair the Cruise Ship Safety Forum, is proactive and I would guess they would … take a look at what initiatives they feel might need to be taken forward.
“But I would also imagine that the ship operators themselves will be looking at their own lessons, their own procedures, to make sure they have been reviewed.
“Internationally, the IMO might take a few years. The industry would be working with them, but hopefully taking something forward in the interim.”