New Zealand and Fiji Authorities Work on Improving Cruise Ship Accident Emergency Protocols

Lipcon, Marguiles, Alsina & Winkleman, P.A

In the wake of several cruise ship accidents that have befallen the maritime industry in the past few years, some liners and ports have avoided taking responsibility for the incidents that have occurred on their watch, however, New Zealand and Fiji are not about to let a cruise disaster occur on their watch. The two ports – two of the most frequented in the world – are taking precautions to improve cruise ship safety and prevent accidents from occurring in their respective areas by holding mock accidents and testing port officials and crew members on their response to these incidents.

This weekend New Zealand authorities held a mock cruise ship accident in Otago Harbour to test what would happen if a vessel were to sink in the area and how emergency officials would respond. Crews were tested for their various responses and how they used their available resources during what was being dubbed an “overwhelming” cruise disaster resulting in “mass casualties.”

The mock drill was a success and highlighted the quick thinking strategies of emergency responders and crew members when faced with a maritime disaster. The mock disaster was originally planned for Otago Peninsula at Taiaroa Head, but due to unfavorable weather conditions, the drill was held at Portobello Bay.

The trial began with 75 volunteers posing as cruise ship victims in the water. There were also several rafts floating in the harbor awaiting rescue and 45 bobbing soccer balls in the water representing deceased passengers that needed to be transported to a temporary morgue. Crews had to assess the level of injuries for victims and will later receive a full assessment on which areas they excelled and which need improvement.

In Fiji, authorities are busy working on ways to improve rescue procedures as well. After a Fiji Broadcasting Corporation report demonstrated that an increase of cruise travel to the country can improve the overall economy in the region, there are issues that are hindering economic growth, most notably safety protocols for cruise ship accidents.

Now, authorities are working on improving Fiji’s search and rescue procedures and ensuring proper protocols are in place so that in the event that a cruise ship accident does take place, emergency teams will be in place, ready to help victims as quickly as possible.

According to Bruce Tweed, the Ship Safety Adviser of the Secretariat of the Pacific Community saying, Fiji needs to have fully operational search and rescue protocols in place so that if a cruise accident occurs, crews are ready to help. He also added that it’s important for the nation’s authorities to understand the implications of a cruise ship disaster, especially if the accident results in mass casualties, so they can be ready to respond with the appropriate protocols.

Following the Costa Concordia capsizing accident in January, 2012, maritime authorities have been working hard to prevent another tragedy of this magnitude from occurring again. The Concordia’s crew was criticized for its lack of coordination during the emergency evacuation of the vessel, with surviving passengers recounting how crews could not properly communicate nor seemed like they knew what they were doing. A total of 32 people were killed because of the negligence of the Concordia’s captain – Francesco Schettino – who made the decision to alter the ship’s course, which caused it to strike a large rock, and negligence of the liner overall in failing to ensure crew members could carry out emergency protocols.

Hopefully New Zealand and Fiji’s strategies will inspire other ports to carry out mock drills or find other ways of improving emergency procedures so that in the event of a cruise ship accident, the number of injuries and fatalities will be reduced or prevented overall.