The January 13, 2012 capsizing of the Costa Concordia off the coast of Italy has served as a wake-up call for the cruise ship industry and its nearly 16 million annual passengers about the importance of safety.
We’ll review what happened, what you can do if you’re in a similar situation, and general cruise ship safety tips to make sure your getaway is enjoyable.
The Costa Concordia Evacuation
In the days since the capsizing, the news has been flooded with first-hand accounts of survivors describing the chaos that ensued when evacuation became a life or death situation.
First, not everyone onboard was aware of what to do in the event of an emergency. Sounds crazy, right? The International Maritime Organization (IMO), which is the regulator of ship safety worldwide, sets the rules on passenger drills and evacuation procedures. All passengers must receive a lifeboat drill within 24 hours of departure. While the Costa Concordia had held a drill within 24 hours of leaving Savona, there had been no drill for the 600 passengers who boarded later at the port of Rome.
Second, it took longer than expected to get everyone off the ship — five hours in fact. Regulations state that a ship’s systems should last at least three hours to allow enough time to get all passengers to lifeboat stations with life jackets. From that point, regulations state all people onboard should be capable of being evacuated within 30 minutes after the abandon ship signal is given. In this case, the Costa Concordia slanted so quickly that all of the lifeboats couldn’t be used.
Third, passengers said they received contradicting messages from the staff, and some didn’t speak their language, making it difficult for communication to get to everyone effectively.
These failures would likely have been avoided with the proper precautions and protocol.
Tips to Survive a Sinking Cruise Ship
Many people have seen the movie Titanic, and perhaps before this month, we figured that type of tragedy is a thing of the past. Ships have come a long way since then! While technology has improved over time, human error will never be obsolete. But, as passengers, our reaction is the part we can control. With today’s ships holding as many as 6,000 people, passengers can’t afford to solely rely on crewmembers to effectively handle an emergency. It’s important to know all safety procedures and recall some of the tips shared here to help you survive.
- Pay attention to the muster drill given at the beginning of your journey. While first-time passengers may hang on to every directive, frequent cruise goers may find this part repetitive and not give it the full attention it deserves. Think of it this way — for all the times you’ve flown in an airplane and heard the emergency tips, would you really be calm as a cucumber if something happened? Listening to the safety drill can be a life-saving refresher for everyone.
- If something unfortunate happens, recognize the evacuation signal. The standard signal is seven short horn blasts followed by one long horn blast.
- Try to stay calm and recall the safety drill. Panic on a boat with thousands of people can cause further injury if everyone stampedes in various directions.
- Focus on finding the quickest route to the lifeboats and never use an elevator in case the electrical system goes out.
- Use handrails and look out for objects that may be shifting if the boat is tilted.
- Locate life jackets and put yours on first before helping others.
- Listen for all announcements, especially if you are on a foreign cruise line, as they may give information in several languages.
Cruise Ship Safety Tips
While the IMO monitors standards set by the International Convention for the Safety of Life at Sea (established in 1914 in response to the 1912 sinking of the Titanic), passengers should have some safety standards of their own.
- Before you even leave town, refrain from posting your location on social media sites. It may be fun to announce to friends and family that you’re going on a cruise, but you may be opening the door to crooks that now know you won’t be home.
- Once on board, pay attention to the mandatory safety drill. It’s likely that mid-cruise passengers will now have to receive this training before leaving port to avoid a repeat of the Costa Concordia.
- Know the location of life jackets and understand how to secure them.
- Get to know the ship. Find the exits and know where the lifeboats are located.
- Just like a big city, cruises are filled with thousands of people including thieves, drug addicts, spouse abusers and more. If you see something out of the ordinary, report it to the staff immediately to protect yourself and other passengers.
- Avoid getting into a heated argument with anyone. Basically, you are stuck with them for the remainder of the trip.
- Keep most of your cash and valuables in the ship’s safe.
- Secure your cabin when you aren’t in it and only store items in your cabin safe that you wouldn’t mind losing. Remember, crewmembers can access them if need be, and the need might not be yours.
- If there’s a casino on your ship, cash in your winnings and keep them in the ship’s safe. Don’t boast about your good fortune, you could be making yourself a target for theft.
- Watch your food intake and make sure to carry various medicines with you depending on your typical reactions to certain foods.
- Wash your hands constantly during your trip, and especially before and after eating. Passengers can get stomach flu viruses from poor hygiene or contaminated food.
- While it’s fun to have a few drinks while on vacation, remember, you are moving in water and weather that may be unpredictable. Don’t let yourself get into a state where your judgment could be impaired in the event of an emergency.
- You might make a friend or two over martinis, but watch your alcoholic intake to avoid making yourself vulnerable to sexual assault.
- Don’t accept drinks from strangers and never leave your drink unattended while heading to the bathroom or dance floor.
Cruising 100 Years After the Sinking of the Titanic
As with anything, there are two sides of the story when talking about modern day cruise ship safety. Nautilus International (maritime union) says many ships are unsafe because of their design. Ships are getting taller with pools, bars, casinos and shopping areas that make maneuvering difficult in inclement conditions.
On the other hand, especially in the United States, security and safety measures have increased since September 11, 2001 to guard against terrorism.
- All passengers’ names are checked against a terrorist watch list and their bags are screened before they are allowed onboard.
- Ships must notify the upcoming port of entry 96 hours in advance of their arrival to give law enforcement officials time to check the names against the watch list.
- There is a 300-foot minimum distance that private vessels must keep between their boats and cruise ships.
- The U.S. Coast Guard provides armed escorts to cruises entering U.S. ports to protect ships from modern day pirates.
- Authorized personnel areas are better secured to prevent access by potential terrorists.
- The number of security officers onboard has increased. Not only do they check documentation for all passengers, especially after re-boarding from day trips, but they also conduct foot patrols. In addition, more security cameras have been installed.
While these measures are in place, the Costa Concordia accident proves there is always room for improvement; that even 100 years after the sinking of the Titanic, we still have lessons to learn about cruise ship safety. Many experts suggest that a good start is to have all safety drills given to passengers before they depart for their voyage.
The best way we can honor those who lost their lives is to remember cruise ship safety tips so that future cruises are a safe, fun and enjoyable experience.