30 JANUARY 2012

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Article from BTNews 30 JANUARY 2012

COMMENT: Costa Chaos

The last AERBT in each month always features a cruise column.  The steady increase of hits on the website confirms this leisure feature is well read.  Such is the spotlight on the Costa Concordia disaster we feel well justified on focusing our COMMENT column on the sinking.

Whilst they are nearly 100 years apart a number of important comparisons can be made between the Titanic and Costa Concordia tragedies.

The loss of lives should never have happened.  True on both occasions disaster struck at night, but the seas were calm and the impact did not actually cause any deaths, nor did the ships sink quickly.  Help was available nearby.  In both cases there are tales of heroism and Officers excelling in their duties.

A great deal was learnt regarding passenger and crew safety with Titanic.  It would be hoped that the same will happen with Concordia.  That will be a major plus for safety at sea.

There is a further parallel.  The sinking of the Titanic did not stop people travelling by sea.  OK, a century ago there was no alternative but clearly people must have questioned their need to cross the Oceans.  The shipping industry of the time quickly got its act together and implemented a much better safety routine.

Did the loss of the Estonia in the Baltic Sea in 1994 with 852 lives cause a drop in ferry bookings?  If it did it was quickly forgotten.

Your Editor has travelled on Costa Fortuna, a sister ship of Concordia.  Getting on board that ship at Genoa was organised chaos.  “Never again” regarding Costa was the conclusion.  Fortuna was a stunning ship, perhaps a little over elaborate concerning its interior décor for English tastes, with service and organisation well below that experienced on similar sized vessels.

Without the results of the Court of Enquiry, but based on our own observations, AERBT would like to suggest the following vital recommendations.

• No passenger ship should put to sea without a safety briefing.  This is the case with UK registered ships.  An accident can happen from the moment the last gangway is lifted.  The 24-hour rule is a total nonsense.  Aircraft do not move off the stand until the cabin drill is complete.

• On a cruise ship you are checked in with your identification actually on board.  With airlines the final passenger log is made landside prior to boarding (and backed up by the cabin crew).  This way the record is held by the carrier’s computer on land, and not, as it appears in this case, on a machine which probably went down with the ship. One must assume that the security was thus that no member of the crew could have got on board without checking in.  This gangway check needs to be ‘live’ on land for instant referral.

• The evacuation commander must speak the tongue of the majority on board (and be multi-lingual).  It is custom on Costa for announcements to be made in up to five languages (it drives you mad – especially repetitive ‘sales’ broadcasts).  From the TV news items English seems to be the main means of communication.  It can be guessed that the majority on board were Italians followed by Germans.

From a public relations point of view the UK-based Passenger Shipping Association found itself with a dilemma.  As the industry’s voice should it be seen and  heard talking of the lives saved, or taking a low profile as the conveyor of condolences, allowing others to have their say?  This needs to be sorted out.

Costa Concordia is owned by Carnival, a massive and responsible company with a first class track record.  Its largest and most experienced European operation is at Southampton, a port synonymous with passenger shipping.  Southampton should be put in charge of Costa, and quickly.

Your Editor intends to go to sea this summer, on ships big and small.

Malcolm Ginsberg
Editor in Chief

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