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New cruise safety policies fail to address the lessons learned from Costa Concordia tragedy

One hundred days have passed since the tragic events of the Costa Concordia which saw the confirmed death of 30 cruise passengers and the disappearance of 2 additional passengers whose bodies have yet to be found.

It took more than 100 days for the cruise industry to agree on three new safety measures. The announcement of the new policies by the cruise industry through Cruise Lines International Association (CLIA) and the European Cruise Council (ECC) is all over the print and digital media and looks more to be a public relations coup than addressing the true concerns and lessons that were learned from the events that led to the sinking and grounding of the Costa Concordia.

The first measure proclaims that cruise ships will now have more lifejackets aboard than are required by law; Limiting access to a ship’s bridge at potentially dangerous times; and requiring cruise ship routes to be planned in advance and shared with all members of the bridge team.

The second and third measures are directly addressing errors which may have contributed to the Costa Concordia’s demise. Last January, Captain Schettino had invited a female passenger to the ship’s bridge, which according to witnesses, distracted not only the Captain, but the rest of the bridge team.

One should wonder why it took over 100 days for the cruise industry to figure out that bringing passengers to the bridge of a ship when the captain and the bridge team are maneuvering the ship is a terrible idea. The third measure is equally baffling. Why did it take until April of 2012 to require a bridge team to agree the ship’s route before the ship sails and stick to the route? What has happened to common sense?

In its announcement to the media, the cruise industry wasted a huge opportunity to address the real issues brought to light by the tragedy. Leesfield & Partners currently represents several Costa Concordia passengers who were trapped on board the large ship. Their accounts and the testimonies of countless other Costa Concordia passengers all have one thing in common: The crew was utterly helpless.

The facts are staggering. While officers of the ship, including the captain and the bridge team, receive several weeks of safety training, the rest of the crew members, which include waiters, cleaning crew, and other support staff get only two weeks of basic safety training.

The second largest challenge is communication. Most cruise ships operate internationally using the English language. But crew members come from many countries, most of them from non-english speaking countries. The language barrier during emergencies is one of the major hurdles when a ship must be evacuated in a hurry.

From the moment an order to abandon ship is issued, international rules require that a ship be evacuated in 30 minutes or less. The lack of crew-member safety training and the language barrier make it absolutely impractical to expect that a ship be entirely evacuated within 30 minutes. It took over 7 hours to evacuate 4,229 passengers and crew-members from the Costa Concordia.

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