As the effort to salvage the wreck of the cruise ship Costa Concordia continues off the coast of Italy, cruise ship companies are trying to salvage a damaged public image. The 2012 grounding of the vessel killed 32 people. Coupled with the fire earlier this year aboard the Carnival Triumph, which left it adrift in the Gulf of Mexico without power or working toilets, public confidence has been badly shaken.
In their attempt to recover, companies have stepped up compliance. They have collectively approved new safety measures through the nonprofit Cruise Lines International Association (CLIA), a group of 26 cruise lines, including those owned by Carnival Corp. (which, among its 10 lines, owns the ones that operated the Costa Concordia and the Triumph). Carnival has gone beyond CLIA reforms to upgrade its ships and has also conducted a safety audit.
The reaction from outside experts has been mixed. Critics have questioned the depth of the industry’s commitment, but Rear Admiral Joe Servidio, assistant commandant for prevention and policy in the U.S. Coast Guard, said that the industry has made real progress in correcting deficiencies.
When a ship visits a U.S. port, the Coast Guard inspects to ensure compliance with international and domestic regulations. “As part of a safety management system,” Servidio said, “you should be looking at deficiencies and taking steps to preclude them from happening again. That’s what we expect them to do, and that’s what we’ve seen.”
CLIA undertook a fleetwide operational review and, as a result, it now requires members to ensure that officers working on a vessel’s bridge are thoroughly briefed on navigational plans, and that companies encourage them to raise operational concerns.
Failures in these areas were cited as contributing factors in the Italian government’s report on the accident. The Costa Concordia’s captain steered the ship too close to shore and overrode navigational plans, the report found. And officers were described as “passive.”
Although international regulation has not matched CLIA’s initiatives, one reform has been codified into international law: a strengthened requirement for passenger safety drills. The rule had only required passengers to be briefed within 24 hours of departure. That changed, however, after the disaster, in which passengers forced to abandon ship had not yet participated in the drill. It must now be held before embarkation.
Carnival has added a maritime development and compliance department to oversee issues of health, safety, security and environmental protection. It also announced a corporatewide organizational review and an investment of between $600 million and $700 million for enhancements across all brands to improve redundancy in the engine rooms, to install backup generators and to upgrade fire-suppression equipment.
Although these actions drew praise from experts, some suggested that they were too little, too late. “I think they’re concerned about the public-relations issue and the fact that it’s making a number of people afraid to go on cruises,” said Robert Peltz, a maritime attorney and chairman of the Maritime Law Association.
Jim Walker, a maritime lawyer in Miami who writes the blog Cruise Law News, said that, although many of the CLIA changes appear substantive, in reality they serve only to match passengers’ expectations. They already expect proper bridge procedures, he said, and the cruise industry is decades behind the Federal Aviation Administration’s safety requirements. “My impression is that they’re driven by perceptions of safety rather than the desire to actually make the industry safer.”
Carnival declined to comment beyond written statements. But chief executive officer Gerald Cahill has acknowledged that ship safety and profits are inextricably linked.
During a hearing held in July by the U.S. Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation in response to the Tri­umph incident, Cahill testified: “Nothing is more important than the safety and comfort of our guests, and we will devote the full resources of our company to meet that commitment.
Juan Forrer wrote this article for NLJ ­affiliate Corporate Counsel.