Costa Concordia Survivors Recount Evacuation Experience

Lipcon, Marguiles, Alsina & Winkleman, P.A

A lot of attention has been focused on the Carnival Triumph cruise ship fire accident that occurred last month, with maritime authorities honing in on the lack of safety onboard cruise ships across the world. But while the Triumph debacle has stirred up controversy regarding the cruise industry, survivors and loved ones of those who perished in last year’s Costa Concordia accident are still recovering and trying to heal from that nightmare experience.

The Costa Concordia – owned and operated by a subsidiary of Carnival Corp. – capsized on Jan. 13, 2012 after hitting a rock near the Italian island of Giglio. The vessel’s captain, Francesco Schettino, was charged with several counts of abandoning ship and manslaughter, after choosing to alter the Concordia’s course in order to perform a maneuver known as a “salute,” which brought the ship too close to land. The crash tore a hole in the hull of the ship, causing the vessel to partially sink. Passengers recount how crewmembers were unable to communicate with each other and the entire evacuation process was chaotic and traumatic.

A total of 32 people died as a result of the captain’s actions, for which he is expected to stand trial later this year. However, one couple who survived the nightmare explain exactly what they had to do to make it off the ship alive.

Ian and Janice Donoff were nearly killed in the Costa Concordia disaster last year when the vessel ran aground, but have lived to tell the tale of their harrowing escape. The London couple explained they were on their honeymoon when the accident took place and while they made it out alive, the experience has forever changed them.

Ian, 63, is a retired building engineer who has volunteered with the Israel Defense Forces as a tank mechanic, yet recounts how the atmosphere onboard the Concordia after the crash was extremely chaotic. Janice, who broke several bones in her hands and feet during the evacuation off the vessel, now sufferers from post-traumatic stress and feels uncomfortable when around large crowds.

The couple had been watching a magic show when they heard a loud bang, which they soon came to realize was not part of the act. They were later instructed to report to the nearest muster stations with their life vests, but were not told anything more of the accident until an “Abandon ship” was ordered.

“Around 11:00 p.m. the ‘Abandon ship’ signal went up and there was panic,” recalled Janice. “Everybody was clamoring for the lifeboats.”

The Donoffs became stuck in an inner section of the vessel with 400 other people and only one exit. Ian didn’t think they would be making it off the ship alive, and so, began to recite a traditional confessional Jewish prayer before death.

“I thought it was so unfair,” said Ian. “My late wife had died some four years earlier, and I found Janice and we were just planning a new life.”

However, the Donoffs did manage to escape, but it wasn’t an easy task. The couple had to climb to an outer deck and crawl down a rope ladder to a lifeboat that was waiting in the water. They were among the last of the 3,200 passengers who made it off the ship.
While Costa Cruises offered a refund to passengers and provide 11,000 Euros, a little over $14,000, in compensation for the accident, the Donoffs did not accept the offer and are considering suing the cruise line.

“I never dreamt that ship was going to sink,” Janice said. “It’s the 21st century; they don’t sink.”

Unfortunately, no one knows what to expect these days with cruise lines and their lax safety regulations. There have been several accidents following the Costa Concordia capsizing, many of which also resulted in fatalities. Yet, despite the several international maritime laws in place that protect those onboard from harm, cruise operators continue to disregard them, placing thousands of lives at risk on a daily basis.

Eight months after the Concordia capsized, the Cruise Lines International Association (CLIA), in conjunction with the European Cruise Council (ECC), released ten safety proposals that all cruise line companies were suppose to abide by, including provisions concerning lifeboat drills and the proper securing of onboard equipment. However, it appears as though none of the organizations’ warnings were headed, and several more passengers and crewmembers have been hurt or killed as a result of the industry’s failure to uphold even the most basic of safety standards.

Whenever someone is hurt or a loved one is killed while in the care of a cruise ship, the line may be found at least partially responsible for the incident. Anyone involved in an accident at sea or in port has a right to turn to a cruise ship accident attorney to discuss their options in filing a claim and obtaining compensation for their pain and suffering, but the focus should be placed on working to prevent these tragic accidents from happening in the first place.

Photo Credits:

Top Left: Costa Concordia capsizing remains – wodumedia.com
Middle Right: Ian and Janice Donoff recount Costa Concordia nightmare – vosizneias.com
Bottom Left: Donoffs interviewed after arriving back home (Heathrow Airport, London) – wodumedia.com