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A Times Editorial

Safety first on cruise ships

The Costa Concordia cruise ship disaster off Italy's Tuscan coast demonstrates that human error and hubris can trump technology. The partial sinking of the ship with a loss of 11 lives and 21 missing was a calamity exacerbated by the incompetence and cowardice of its captain. But there are valuable lessons to be learned about more effectively evacuating a crippled ship.

Some 13 million people worldwide take cruises every year, including those who depart from Tampa. In the United States, the U.S. Coast Guard is responsible for conducting inspections of cruise ship seaworthiness and safety standards. The Costa Concordia, built in 2006, was equipped with state-of-the-art communications and navigation systems. But that couldn't prevent a foolhardy decision by the ship's showboating captain, Francesco Schettino, to order the vessel to within 150 yards of the shoreline, where the Costa Concordia's hull was shredded by rocks. Schettino violated centuries of maritime tradition — and law — in leaving his post and abandoning ship ahead of his crew and many of the 3,200 passengers.

The panic as the ship quickly listed revealed a crew ill-prepared to assist passengers. Contrary to U.S. cruise ship protocols, under which passengers attend a mandatory briefing on security procedures before leaving port, 600 of the passengers on board the Costa Concordia weren't scheduled to receive their security briefing until the day after the accident.

The Costa Concordia's parent company is Carnival Cruise Lines, headquartered in Miami. Carnival should insist its foreign-based cruise ships follow U.S. standards in conducting safety briefings before a ship leaves port. Carnival also needs to revisit its policy on ordering evacuations. In the Costa Concordia incident, many life boats were inoperable due to the ship's listing.

The passengers of the Costa Concordia did not sign on for The Poseidon Adventure. The cruise ship industry has an obligation to do more to prevent a sequel.

Safety first on cruise ships 01/20/12 [Last modified: Friday, January 20, 2012 7:48pm]
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