Two months after the Costa Concordia sinking, leaders of some of the world’s major cruise lines spoke in public for the first time last week about the impact of the cruise disaster and the safety record of their industry.
At an annual conference and trade show in Miami, the leaders’ moods alternated between uncommonly serious, when emphasizing safety on their vacation products, to upbeat, about the public’s future plans to spend their holidays on the cruise world’s ever expanding fleet of ships.
Though it hardly ranks with the infamous Titanic sinking – fewer than three dozen people died on Costa Concordia, while thousands were rescued – the image of the ship disaster will not die soon. Modern cruise ships are not supposed to sink, and until January both cruise crews and passengers were confident that the horrors of the Titanic were merely an old and unrepeatable story line.
This story, however, will not go away easily, as questions about competence, responsibility, training, and panic remain.
Hulking reminder of strange behavior
The Costa Concordia’s sinking off the rocky coast of Italy – and reports about strange behavior by its captain – flashed across the air and Internet in January just as the cruise industry was beginning to take advantage of improving economies. Bookings and prices were rising.
Since then, however, all cruise lines have taken at least a small hit in business, and the doomed cruise ship is a somber reminder to all as it sits, ruined, and flopped on its side, in full view of television cameras, waiting for engineers to finish draining the oil tanks and preparing the tragic hulk for towing away.
At a press dinner in Miami last week, Richard Fain, chairman of Royal Caribbean Cruises, which has no financial connection to Costa or the Concordia ship, counted the minutes from the moment he entered the pre-dinner cocktail party until someone asked him a Concordia question.
“Eighteen minutes,” he said later, indicating that the elapsed time was a significant improvement over his experience during the past two months. Still, safety was on his mind. The same day, Royal Caribbean introduced a new simulator training center for employees at Resolve Maritime Academy in Fort Lauderdale. The first training courses begin in April. Adam Goldstein, Royal Caribbean International’s president and CEO has called the Concordia sinking “a defining moment in the history of the modern cruise industry.”
Leaders tout industry safety
Safety bubbled to the top of most conversations during the four-day conference and trade show known as Cruise Shipping Miami.
“Nothing is more important than safety,” said Christine Duffy, CEO of Cruise Lines International Association (CLIA), the organization that represents much of the cruise industry.
“The crew are the heroes of this tragedy. In time, their stories will be told,” said Howard Frank, CEO and vice chairman of Carnival Corporation, which owns the Costa cruise line. “I couldn’t be in better hands than when an Italian captain is on the bridge.”
“Our captains have been at sea an average of 33 years,” said Kevin Sheehan, president and CEO of Norwegian Cruise Line.
“We drill constantly,” said Dan Hanrahan, president and CEO of Celebrity Cruises. “People see this as an isolated incident, and they will continue to cruise."
New rule for lifeboat muster
One safety change that cruise passengers will see immediately is the lifeboat and muster drill held at the beginning of each voyage.
Cruise lines have agreed to schedule the drill before the cruise ship leaves port, so you can expect to be rushed to a drill if the ship is scheduled to leave mid to late afternoon.
I anticipate a few problems for people who are late arriving from an airport and barely beat the deadline. One cruise executive told me that his line is prepared to give a special briefing to late arrivals.