Accident Shines a Spotlight on Cruise Safety

In the wake of the Costa Concordia disaster, many people are taking a long hard look at cruise ship safety. For many cruise line employees, the mistakes and chaos that surrounded the fatal boating accident were no surprise. Former employees describe an atmosphere that places little to no emphasis on safety and leaves passengers and crews alike in serious danger. While much of the attention has been directed towards the captain of the Costa Concordia, first for running the ship aground and then for fleeing long before the passengers’ safety had been secured, the cruise lines themselves must shoulder much of the blame.Cruise ships are required to conduct safety drills and instruct passengers on what to do in case of an emergency. These requirements are often ignored or fulfilled so haphazardly as to serve no useful purpose. In an emergency, passengers rely on the crew to conduct them to safety. Unfortunately, the crew is rarely prepared for anything out of the ordinary.

Part of the problem is exhaustion. The ratio of crew members to passengers has grown steadily worse over the past few decades in an attempt to cut costs. Crew members are often asked to work 12-14 hour days, 7 days a week for months at a time. It is unreasonable to expect exhausted employees to make the correct decisions in emergency situations. Another problem is insufficient training. Many cruise line employees complain of safety training delivered in a language they don’t understand. The cruise industry, while catering largely to American passengers, is largely staffed by foreign workers.

Whether this disaster will be sufficient to force the cruise industry to adopt safety measures remains to be seen. With dozens of people missing and 11 confirmed dead, this Carnival Cruise Lines accident should help many people see the risks inherent in this industry. For the families of those missing and dead, any safety measures adopted will come too late.

Source: The Newsweek/Daily Beast, “Costa Concordia Disaster Brings Hard Look at Cruise Ship Safety,” by Eve Conant, 23 January 2012