Since 1971, protecting the rights of cruise passengers and crew members is what our law firm has set out to accomplish. We hear about countless accidents and crimes that occur both on the high seas and in port, yet despite these incidents and the many victims that have to endure hardship and suffering, it appears as though safety is still not the main priority of the cruise industry.
The discussion regarding cruise ship safety isn’t one that is going to end any time soon. With each passing year, it seems the number of accidents at sea continue to increase, despite advancements in technology that should reduce the rate of injuries and crimes onboard a ship. We often ask ourselves how is it that a multibillion-dollar industry can neglect to improve maritime safety features for both passengers and crew members. It’s hard to believe the reason is money, because after all, the cruise industry has plenty of it. Plenty to spend on new ships, plenty to spend on upgrading entertainment venues on older ships. But not plenty enough to invest in a full upgrade of all safety equipment?
This month marks the two-year anniversary of the Costa Concordia capsizing tragedy. Thirty-two people lost their lives because the vessel’s captain decided to play the maritime version of Russian roulette, and lost. As the highly publicized story goes: the vessel crashed into a rock, began to sink and from passenger recounts, the crew response was a complete mess (at best). No one seemed to know what they were doing, much less even communicate with one another. Not only was the accident itself a result of complete negligence, but in the aftermath, when it was up to crew members to safely and quickly evacuate all passengers, the procedures were completely botched.
Though the Concordia accident isn’t the first nor the last cruise ship accident to ever befoul the industry, it was the first to receive such extreme media coverage. For many years, cruise lines have been able to get away with their negligent actions and for a slew of reasons. For one, most vessels are registered in and fly the flags of foreign countries where maritime laws are far more lax than in the United States. This has allowed liners to avoid repercussion for accidents and crimes their negligence in providing a safe onboard environment to passengers and crew contributed to.
In the wake of the Costa accident, and the several others that have followed, the U.S. government has been trying to establish greater control over the industry in order to prevent serious collisions, criminal activity and other acts of negligence from occurring on the high seas. But we’ve still got a long way to go before the industry will be, by any means, considered “safe.”
Several legislations have been launched to improve safety within this industry, including the Cruise Vessel Security and Safety Act (CVSSA). But according to a Government Accountability Office (GAO) report, only 11 of the 15 provisions in the legislation have been implemented.
What is keeping the other four provisions from being implemented? Will they actually be implemented?
Allegedly, the remaining four provisions require a new regulation policy to be developed, which is apparently in the works already, claim the cruise lines. Among these policies are improved evacuation training (made evident following the Costa Concordia capsizing) and life-jacket stowage.
Sadly, it takes the U.S. government’s pressure to get cruise lines to implement policies that should have been implemented from the get go. Evacuation training should be one of the main safety priorities of the industry since the very first cruise ship ever set sail. Even 100 years ago, when the Titanic crashed and brought to light the follies within the industry, cruise lines should have stepped up their safety standards, especially their crew member emergency protocol training. Though the goal is to avoid accidents, when they do occur, it’s imperative a crew knows how to handle it properly.
The smoother an evacuation goes, with all crew members keeping calm and helping passengers stay calm, the easier the process will run and the better the chances of everyone surviving the emergency.
So why is it that something so basic as evacuation training requires a complete overhaul of the cruise industry’s protocols? Were their original protocols so lax that in the face of government pressure – and only government pressure – lines were forced to amend their policies?
Find out more in Part 2 of this blog.