Thoughts about the Costa Concordia Tragedy

All of my regular readers know that cruise ships play a significant role in my life, both in professional and recreational terms. I sell cruises, I work on cruise ships and I take cruises simply for pleasure. The tragedy still unfolding in Italy is obviously on my mind a lot.

I watched this tragedy develop starting about 2 hours after the Costa Concordia was beached on the island of Giglio. The first images I saw were of the ship grounded and listing – a significant event but unlikely to be life-threatening, it seemed to all of us discussing it on cruise forums.

Stories about the initial stages of the rescue operation were brief and often contradictory. Not until photos such as this started appearing did the magnitude of the accident become much clearer. This photo shows hundreds of people on the bow – where do you go from there?

The first image of the ship toppled over was so dark that although the photographer said that’s what it showed, it was impossible to verify. The morning light produced shocking images of the ship…

…and of the shocked and stunned passengers.

It quickly became clear that one man was solely responsible for the wreck, and his actions probably played a large part in the tragedy that ensued – Captain Francesco Schettino.

If you haven’t been on, or at least very close to a cruise ship, it’s hard to imagine the scale that rescuers have to deal with.

When you add in the chaotic conditions inside the ship, it was no surprise to hear this morning that some 20 people are still missing and that rescuers have started to collapse from exhaustion.

There has been endless speculation about this wreck’s effect on Costa, on parent company Carnival Corp, and on the cruise industry in general. My feeling is that you’ll find that once all the knee-jerk reactions have subsided, there will be some impact on Costa, but none on Carnival or the industry in general. I have dozens of clients sailing in the next 3 months, and have not had a single email or phone call about cruise ship safety. The majority of the travel agents in my network are reporting the same – there are no questions resulting from the accident, but lots of new cruise bookings.

The reality is that cruising is the safest form of travel that exists today. The vast majority of people recognize that this is an incredibly rare event. Many people think that the flight to your ship is the most dangerous section of the trip, but it’s actually the drive to the airport! The tightened regulations and enforcement that will no doubt result from this accident will make cruising even safer than it has been up until now.

I’ve only booked 2 people on a Costa ship, and I encouraged them to sail with a different line. Price, however, was their main criteria and it was very cheap. The reality is that Costa just doesn’t get good reviews from North Americans who have cruised with other lines. Cathy and I sailed on the Costa Mediterranea in 2006 and it’s extremely unlikely we’ll ever be on another Costa ship. The food and service were both mediocre and the decor was described by us and many others as “gaudy” – in a Baroque cathedral sort of way.

This commentary is not a sales pitch for cruising. In fact, I gave my 30-day notice to the travel agency yesterday. It’s been fun, but I’m going back to photography, writing and house renovations. And more cruising.

My thoughts remain with the thousands of people who have been affected by this tragedy. I can only hope that it doesn’t get any worse.

Comments

Thoughts about the Costa Concordia Tragedy — 10 Comments

  1. I find it pretty outlandish all the coverage I’ve seen the past several days about the supposed dangers of cruise lines and all the accompanying fear-mongering when the reality is that I have much higher chance of being killed on the 30km commute to work tomorrow morning on Alberta’s notorious Highway 63.

  2. Speaking as a veteran of the US Navy, serving aboard the USS Battaan (LHD-5) from 1996-2000, I think I have enough sea time to say that the Captain of the Cordia is a dispicable human being. He should have been on that ship helping anyone and everyone until he collapsed from exhaustation.

    What concerns me about cruises is the training of the crews. In the Navy, we had drills daily. Sailors attended disaster control classes constantly: aboard while underway and ashore when at the pier. Obviously this is not feasible aboard a cruise ship and the result is, at least in my opinion, is exactly what happened in Italy. A coward of a captain and an untrained crew found on the shore. Bullshit announcements being made about an electrical problem. I kind of got the feeling it was like busboys trying to be professional Sailors.

    I am not even afraid of running aground. What concerns me is the most dangerous situation aboard any ship: A fire. As an Intelligence Specialist, I remember putting on firefighting gear, rebreathers, and fighting “fires” during training excersises. The Navy even had fog machines to create what it will be like in a smokey, closed compartment. Again, this is not feasible on a cruise ship.

    Why was an Intel nerd putting on gear? Every Sailor in the Navy is a trained firefighter. Every single one. Is it the same on crusie ships? I have no idea. If it is, is the training refreshed? Or is it a bullshit 8 hour course you can do online?

    You claim cruising is the safest form of travel. I believe you. You are a professional in the field and honestly, how often does one hear about cruise ship disasters? Not often. Italy is an isolated, rare incident a hot shot coward captain buzzing the shoreline while some blonde broad nuzzles up against him.

    I just wish the crews of the cruise ships were trained as well as we were in the Navy. Or at least as close as possible. The crew was found on the shore…just a shame…a terrible shame.

  3. After I typed the above comment, a new passenger cell phone video was released showing a crew member asking passengers to go to their cabins on “behalf of the Captain”

    I agree with Darcy above. She is in the most danger during her 30km commute to work on Alberta’s notorious Highway 63.

    But does Darcy cruise as often as she drives along 63? If she cruised as much as commuted, I wonder if the accident rate would be equal?

    I am sure Darcy would not let an untrained driver drive her car, or an untrained mechanic inspect her car.

    So why cruise with an untrained crew?

  4. Brian, there is NO question that cruise ship crews have only the most basic training except for a relatively small firefighting crew, another for lifeboat handling – and even the training that they receive is no doubt not very intensive. Last year, though, 19 million people spent a total of about 450 million hours on cruise ships. The most comprehensive database of problems is at http://www.cruisejunkie.com/events2011.html but it’s far too comprehensive IMO as most of it is illness or weather related. A fire aboard a Hurtigruten ship killed 2 crew members. There are passenger deaths aboard ships in Bulgaria and Viet Nam, but those aren’t the sort of ships I’m talking about – on major cruise lines, I can’t find any ship-related passenger deaths in 2011. The vast majority of violence aboard ships is on Carnival ships – no surprise to Cathy and I after our first and last Carnival cruise last November.

    In comparison, last year, the USA had 8.5 fatalities per 1 billion kilometers driven in cars (Canada had 8.2), and the current odds of being killed during a flight with a major air carrier are 1 in 9.2 million.

    To answer you final question, “So why cruise with an untrained crew?”, though – because regardless of training, it’s very safe and very inexpensive for what you get.

  5. Thanks for your reply. I am lucky to have a forum to express my concerns and a real professional to address them! Awesome! Makes me feel alot better about cruising, thanks Murray!

    I guess when you look at life, there is a risk in everything we all do, and the only safe alternative is to stay home but statistics show that is not so safe either!

    There is a guy here in the office that goes on a cruise every year and refuses to go on Carnival. He said it is the Greyhound bus of cruises. I saw pictures of his trip last year and came close to suggesting to my wife we give it a whirl.

  6. This brief press release just arrived, directly addressing your concerns, Brian:

    “Costa Cruises’ parent firm, Carnival Corp., will launch an audit and review of emergency response and safety procedures of all 10 of its cruise lines after they were called into question after last weekend’s Costa Concordia accident. Retired U.S. Navy Capt. James Hunn, Carnival’s senior vice president of maritime policy and compliance, will lead the in-house review, and third-party experts will conduct a separate audit. “This companywide initiative will identify lessons learned and best practices to further ensure the security and safety of all of our passengers and crew,” said Howard Frank, Carnival’s chief operating officer.”

  7. I agree with most comments here and would like to add that it isn’t necessarily the cruise line’s fault, other than hiring Captain Shellitino, but rather the poor decision made by this incredibly incompetent captain. As I was told by my cruise counsellor (Murray), each cruise line offers something different for everyone. Some like to go cheap and you get cheap. You always get what you pay for. Murray researchs other cruise lines so he can honestly tell you what is good about them and what is not so good. I trust his judgment.

    If you book a cruise with a top of the line company, you get what you pay for, and I doubt you’ll be captained by someone who uses poor judgement.

    I too can be killed on the way to work in the morning….even from Riverdale. Have you gone through the roundabout in rush minutes!! Learn how to drive, people!! 🙂