Cruise Ship Safety, In Light of the Costa Concordia Disaster

We have written about the safety of cruises before, as well as provided helpful safety tips for cruise vacations. However, in light of the recent disaster involving the Costa Concordia, a cruise ship owned by Carnival, we think it is appropriate to revisit the topic of cruise ship safety. How can you know that cruise ships are safe, if indeed cruise ships are safe, when a major vessel like the Costa Concordia crashes?

First, a brief recounting of the Costa Concordia accident is in order. On the night of January 13th, a Friday, the massive Costa Concordia, holding 3,200 passengers and 1,000 crew members, crashed off Isola del Giglio, Italy. The ship hit a reef, causing it to keel over and partially sink. As of this writing, 11 people have been confirmed dead and over two dozen are unaccounted for, meaning the death toll will almost certainly rise in the coming days as the ship continues to be frantically searched.

Almost immediately following the disaster, blame was placed squarely at the feet of the captain of the vessel, Francesco Schettino. Prosecutors and the owners of the ship have alleged that Schettino deviated from the course set for the ship, which is plotted in advance. Schettino is expected to be charge with manslaughter and abandoning ship.

The shocking cowardice of the captain came to light a few days after the accident, when a transcript of the exchange between Schettino and the Italian Coast Guard, occurring sometime in the hectic hours after the crash, was published by Italian media.

The Costa Concordia, weighing 114,500 tons, is the largest passenger ship ever wrecked. By way of comparison, the Titanic was only half the size of the Costa Concordia.

As tragic as the accident is, it is important to keep in mind, particularly for those who are currently on cruise ships or know people who are on a cruise vacation, that this is an exceedingly rare occurrence. Thousands of cruises are safely completed each year, and if anything does happen during these voyages, it is almost always something relatively minor, like the theft of a passenger’s valuables. The odds of a cruise ship sinking are extremely small. Cruise ships are subject to rigid regulations, and the seaworthiness of vessels, as well as the safety systems they have in place, is evaluated on a quarterly basis. And even when something does go terribly wrong, passengers and crew members are often able to escape unharmed. For example, a Canadian cruise ship hit submerged ice off Antarctica a few years back, but everyone was able to make it off the ship safely on life boats.

From all that has been learned so far, the Costa Concordia disaster is largely – if not entirely – the captain’s fault. If it weren’t for Schettino’s reckless handling of the vessel (he was reportedly trying to show off the half-billion dollar ship to the residents of Giglio), this tragedy would have never happened. The Costa Concordia disaster is about the careless vanity of a thoughtless man, and it does not speak to the larger issue of cruise ship safety.

Of course, none of this is remotely comforting to the passengers who were on board the Costa Concordia when it wrecked, and the same applies to their suffering families. Nevertheless, we must always strive to view a disaster rationally, even if we must do so through tear-filled eyes.

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