Posted at 01:04 PM ET, 03/01/2012

Costa Allegra docks, but leaves apprehension in its wake

Beleaguered passengers filed off the Costa Allegra on Thursday as the disabled cruise ship docked in the Seychelles after three days at sea without lights, air conditioning or working toilets.

More than 1,000 passengers — none of whom reportedly sustained any injuries — had been stuck aboard the ship, which lost power after a fire in the generator room Monday, the Associated Press reports.

The timing of the incident has compounded fears about the safety and stability of the cruise line industry, which suffered a major blow only a month and a half ago as a ship from the same line ran aground off the cost of Italy.

Even prior to the scare on the Costa Allegra, the House maritime subcommittee scheduled a hearing on cruise ship safety and lessons learned from the Costa Concordia accident.
Passengers of the Costa Allegra cruise ship look for their baggage upon their arrival at Victoria's harbor, Seychelles Island, Thursday, March 1, 2012. (Gregorio Borgia - AP)

Post reporter Ashley Halsey said Wednesday’s hearing “was primarily geared toward reassuring testimony that the $35 billion North American cruise ship industry is the safest on earth.”

And while Halsey says committee members and testimony overwhelmingly blamed the captain, who veered the ship off course then evacuated before passengers, customers may need more in the way of reassurances than simply blaming one bad employee.

Following the accident in January, Christopher Elliott, the reader advocate for National Geographic Traveler magazine and columnist for The Post’s Travel section, fielded several questions about canceling upcoming cruises.

Betty Westbrook, a retiree from Allen, Tex., called Elliott with the all-important question: “What are my chances for a refund?”

“I’m 82, and I couldn’t have made it off the ship without help,” she says.

Elliott found only an unsatisfying answer to Westbrook’s question: no refunds.

“We’re not making any changes to our refund policy,” said Carnival spokesman Vance Gulliksen shortly after the Concordia wreck.

If she canceled, Westbrook would lose her deposit or 75 percent of the total cruise fare, whichever is greater, Elliot says. Travelers can receive up to half their fares back when they cancel 44 to 150 days out.

Elliot also found that Costa’s track record has been far from incident-free. In the past two years, the cruise line has had three startling events, including a 2010 collision with a Belgian cargo ship that left several passengers injured and the Costa Europa’s scrape with a pier in Egypt that killed three crew members and injured passengers.

Further, minimal legal rights for passengers can be worrisome, according to legal experts. Fine print on Costa’s ticket contract “limits the cruise line’s liability to about $71,000 per passenger, requires that any claim against the company be filed within a year, restricts the filing venue to a court in Genoa, Italy, and applies Italian law to resolving the dispute” for cruises out of foreign ports, Elliot says.

Costa’s missteps have highlighted several of these problems as customers watch in apprehension while the industry dusts itself off.

Hearing offers reassuring testimony on North American cruise ship industry

Crippled cruise ship, being towed in Indian Ocean, to reach land Thursday, Costa says

Costa Concordia sinking leaves other cruise ship passengers alarmed — and out of luck

By Cara Kelly  |  01:04 PM ET, 03/01/2012

 
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