Westbrook believes that had she been aboard the cruise liner, she might have been a casualty. “I’m 82, and I couldn’t have made it off the ship without help,” she says. Reading about the Concordia crew’s alleged unpreparedness for disaster has made her nervous about her February cruise to the Bahamas on the Carnival Magic.
The Concordia went down Jan. 13 after running aground near the island of Giglio. At least 11 passengers died. The ship’s captain, Francesco Schettino, is reported to have maneuvered the ship too close to a fishing village. He has been arrested and is under investigation for abandoning ship, causing a shipwreck and manslaughter.
Costa Cruises is owned by Miami-based Carnival, the world’s largest cruise line operator, and not surprisingly, some passengers are now having second thoughts about their floating vacation. A nonscientific online survey conducted soon after the disaster by the opinion Web site SodaHead.com found that one-quarter of those polled were “less likely” to book a cruise after the Costa disaster.
Westbrook told me that when she heard about the Concordia sinking, she phoned her travel agency immediately to find out whether she could cancel her cruise.
The answer to her question is: no refunds — at least not for her.
“We’re not making any changes to our refund policy,” said Carnival spokesman Vance Gulliksen. If she canceled, Westbrook would lose her deposit or 75 percent of the total cruise fare, whichever is greater.
Costa, however, is offering passengers scheduled to sail on the Concordia through Feb. 25 their money back and a 30 percent cruise credit.
Meanwhile, the cruise line says it is covering the costs of lodging and return transportation for the Concordia’s survivors, as well as offering counseling to the passengers and their families “as needed.” It is also refunding all voyage costs, including onboard expenses.
In a statement issued just after the incident, Costa and its corporate parent sought to assure passengers such as Westbrook that its vessels are safe. “Costa is committed to ensuring that no such incident ever occurs again,” it said. “Our number-one priority is always the safety and security of our guests and crew, and we comply with all safety regulations.”
But passengers have some cause for concern, particularly when it comes to Costa, says Miami-based maritime lawyer Jim Walker. “In the last two years, Costa has had three significant incidents where crew members have been killed and passengers have been injured,” he says.
On Feb. 26, 2010, the Costa Europa rammed into a pier in Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt, as it was trying to dock in rough weather. Three crew members were killed and three passengers were injured. And on Oct. 18, 2010, the Costa Classica collided with a Belgian cargo ship near China’s Yangtze River, injuring several passengers.