In Part 1 of our three-part blog series, we discussed a pressing matter that’s been on the minds of several people lately, including each admiralty lawyer at our firm – cruise ship accidents. Though the cruise industry has never been entirely free of accidents, as no industry can ever truly be, it seems to many that the number of accidents involving cruise ships is increasing at an alarming rate. Nearly every week, we hear about a cruise ship that experienced mechanical issues or crashed or had a passenger suffer an injury, or even a combination of all the above. And while the accident rate itself is frightening, perhaps the most alarming aspect of it all is that it feels as though these accidents just started happening out of nowhere.
Doesn’t it feel as though just a few years ago, cruise ships were just plain fun? No one ever seemed worried that the ship they were about to sail on could get stuck in port or disabled by a fire. It would appear – at first glance – that cruise ship accidents just magically started happening without rhyme or reason and wouldn’t stop. But, like we said, this is what we see at first glance.
In a way, the frequency with which cruise ship accidents have been occurring has increased, but not as much as one might think. The increase is largely due to the fact that newer ships are much larger than they used to be and can carry many more passengers. A couple of years ago, a ship was only able to carry around 1,000 or so passengers. Now, some ships can carry well over 4,000 people.
It honestly all boils down to numbers. If there are more passengers on a ship, the likelihood that someone will get injured is obviously higher. Additionally, the fact that the ships are much larger means that it’s not as easy to keep an eye over everyone onboard and it’s not as easy to monitor equipment. If you have a ship that’s only about 700 feet in length versus one that’s over 1,100, naturally it will be harder to find mechanical glitches and it will take a lot longer to do so. Unfortunately, ships only have so much time in port between sailings during which crew members can inspect for issues (usually less than three hours). Though the fact remains that inspections are rushed (another issue entirely), and sometimes crew members purposefully overlook certain details, it cannot be denied that larger ships will naturally be more prone to malfunctions based on the sheer fact that there’s just much more equipment to begin with.
The main reason why it seems the cruise ship accident rate has increased drastically in recent years is because cruise ship accident reporting is much better these days. It’s still not perfect, but at least now, there’s much more transparency in cruise ship accident and crime reporting. And this is all the result of one accident that was so catastrophic, it gained world-wide attention and launched a series of maritime safety initiatives – the Costa Concordia capsizing accident.
The Costa Concordia accident occurred in January, 2012, after the vessel’s captain, Francesco Schettino, ordered a change of course to perform a “salute”, which is a maneuver that brings a ship closer to port than usual in order to “salute” those ashore and give onlookers a thrill. As a result of this maneuver, the ship crashed into a giant rock off the coast of Giglio, Italy, which tore the hull and ultimately caused the vessel to capsize. A total of 32 people were killed because of the accident and Schettino is still in trial after being accused of abandoning ship and manslaughter.
Though the Concordia is not the first ship that has ever crashed or capsized, the captain’s actions – along with surviving passenger testimonies that described an extremely disorganized evacuation process – prompted a huge investigation over 1) how a cruise line could allow a captain to make last minute decisions that could place the lives of those on board in danger, 2) how crew members could be so ill-equipped to handle an emergency and an evacuation, 3) whether a cruise line even values the safety of its passengers. This last question became even more glaring in the wake of the abominably small compensation the cruise line offered victims.
The more that was revealed about the accident, especially how the cruise line tried to avoid responsibility for it, the more it became clear that cruise lines had a hidden agenda – they were out to protect themselves above all else.
But it also became clear that something had to be done to regulate the industry, and soon, one man, Senator John “Jay” Rockefeller, would trigger a call for action that would prompt the whole world to take a closer look at the lack of safety on cruise ships.
Find out more in the conclusion of our three-part series.