Safety on Cruise Ships

"Solstice" - Montenegro

The world was shocked by the accident involving the cruise ship Costa Condordia on Saturday, 14 January 2012. Reasons for the catastrophe are being analyzed in the news and people are asking how such an accident could happen. Cruising had been considered one of the safest ways of travelling (plane crashes and car accidents occur much more frequently than accidents in the seas)…yet such things still happen.

Passengers from Costa Concordia compared the situation on board with the one shown in the film Titanic. The captain did not perform his duties at all – on the contrary, after the ship hit the rocks and was seriously damaged, he left the vessel and its passengers to their fate. The action of the crew can also be criticized – many things went really wrong.

I had the chance to be on board a different cruise ship (an American company) during the summer vacation of 2010. Passenger safety was, without a doubt, the captain’s and the crew’s priority. First of all, there was a muster drill on the first day of the cruise  (“boarding day”). After all the passengers come on board, they are informed about the time and location of the muster drill. Its purpose is to familiarize people with the procedure for an emergency situation (emergency exits, location of life-boats, usage of life vests etc.). Surprisingly, this exercise was not performed on Costa Concordia (according to the news, it was planned for the 2nd day of sailing). Chaos and panic during the evacuation can be explained by the fact that people simply did not know what to do and were misinformed by the crew about the necessary actions.

Secondly, the crew of the ship I was on had at least 2 other drills during the cruise where they went through different procedures connected to the passengers’ evacuation and other possible emergencies. Regular training is important and it shows that the company takes passengers’ safety seriously.

Finally, among all the entertaining activities offered on board, there was a meeting with the captain where he answered all kinds of passengers’ questions about his work, safety on board and technical characteristics of the ship. This, together with all the attention to safety measures and procedures has convinced me that there is almost nothing to be afraid of (I say almost, because the world looks very different when you’re looking down from Deck 11, the height of a 9-floor house…)

Am I afraid of cruises now? Not quite. I do have a fear of heights and I’m afraid to look out from the ship balcony on a moonless night but all in all, I believe that everything will be OK.

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2 responses to “Safety on Cruise Ships

  1. Just two little details:
    a) To compare cruises with air travel seems a bit weird to me. It’s not like you go “Uhm, I need to get from here to there but I really don’t want to take a plane – let me just quickly book a cruise instead”. In a way, I feel like a voyage of a cruise ship is not actually “travel” as a means of self-transportation. Also, while i do not have the statistics to back this up, I have heard that travel by airplane is by far the safest on a “deaths per mile/kilometer” basis. If you were to take a cruise as a means of self-transportation, your life’d actually be safer if you took a plane instead.
    b) I like that you try to “explain” panic. Even with a one-day workshop about the serious case of a life-threatening situation, there will still be heaps of panic in the actual event. While I am sure that no preparation whatsoever will augment this effect, I do not think that there is more need to explain why the passengers of a cruise ship go ape once their life is threatened than saying: “The passengers were human.”
    just the two cents from my end

  2. Dear Raph,

    Thank you for the two cents 🙂

    Panic is not explainable, true – I don’t know what I would do in a similar situation… Maybe I’d also jump overboard and swim for my life.

    As for the statistics for ways of transportation, it was generalizing from my part (something I could change next time). I totally agree that a cruise ship is not something you take, say, every year to go somewhere, most people use planes, trains and cars. Still one hears relatively seldom about catastrophes in the sea (there are still accidents with cargo ships or oil platforms, but this is totally different).

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