The Concordia struck a reef off the coast of Italy in January and partially sank, claiming the lives of 32 passengers. Carnival will refloat the hull in a $300 million salvage operation said to be the largest in history.
The Navigator: Cruise safety’s improvements — or lack thereof
Coincidentally, it’s been almost two years since the passage of the Cruise Vessel Security and Safety Act, a law that promised to make cruising safer by requiring cruise lines to install peepholes in cabin doors, improve the handling of crime evidence and report crimes to the Coast Guard and the FBI.
Given that travelers are thinking about security on cruise ships and that the summer vacation season is just around the corner, there’s no better time to ask whether the rules are working as intended. But that’s a hard question to answer.
The law couldn’t have prevented the sinking of the Concordia, for example. That was reportedly caused when its captain, Francesco Schettino, foolishly steered his vessel away from its programmed route to do a maneuver known as a sail-by salute. And common sense can’t be legislated, as they say.
But what about some of the other provisions? David Peikin, a spokesman for the Cruise Lines International Association (CLIA), a cruise industry trade group, wouldn’t comment on whether the law is working but insisted that cruising is safe and that passenger safety remains the industry’s “number one” priority.
Peikin pointed to several independent studies showing even before the law went into effect that the cruise experience was exceedingly safe and said that cruise lines are reporting crimes to the government as required.
I wondered what others thought, so I revisited some of my sources from a 2010 column on the act. Interestingly, that story also featured a quote from a CLIA spokesman about safety being the No. 1 priority.
Kendall Carver, chairman of the International Cruise Victims Association, a passenger advocacy group, doesn’t think that the law has helped passengers. “It’s a travesty,” he said.
In just the past month, several stories have raised serious concerns about cruise ship safety.
A TV exposé about alcohol consumption on cruise ships showed passengers on a Royal Caribbean vessel drinking during a mandatory safety briefing. Royal Caribbean denounced the report as “sensationalistic” and said that it trains its staff in how to serve alcohol to guests in a responsible way.
Also, five men in St. Kitts went on trial for robbing 17 cruise passengers on a shore excursion in 2010. The suspects are accused of taking money, phones and jewelry from the passengers in a crime that the St. Kitts & Nevis Observer called “the most infamous crime in St. Kitts in recent time.”
And then there’s actor John Travolta, who is reportedly being sued for sexual harassment by Fabian Zanzi, a former cruise line employee. The star of “Pulp Fiction” is accused of accosting Zanzi on a Royal Caribbean ship and offering him $12,000 for sex.