Costa Concordia Wreck Could Be Upright This Month

Costa Concordia
Carlo Mirante/Flickr

It was a very unlucky Friday the 13th in 2012 when the luxury cruise ship Costa Concordia ran aground off the coast of Italy, sending shock waves through the world of cruise travel. After the event, which took 32 lives, cruise lines took a hard look at everything they were doing. Back at the scene of the wreck, environmentalists voiced concerns about long-term damage to the delicate marine environment. It would be a long, difficult process to remove the ship, one that may take a big step forward this month.

Last year Gadling explained the process of removing the wreck. First, the grounded ship was stabilized to keep it from sinking further into the ocean. Next, an underwater support system was installed. Now, the process of standing the ship upright, called parbuckling, should take place later this month. Once that delicate operation is complete, the ship will be floated away.

After the grounding of Costa Concordia, the governing organizations of the cruise industry ordered an operational safety review both in response to the grounding and as part of the industry’s continuous efforts to review and improve safety measures. The Costa Concordia event also contributed to the birth of the so-called Cruise Passenger Bill of Rights, which details rights cruise travelers have when things go wrong.Follow along on the wreck removal progress at The Parbuckling Project website and see a great Reuters slide show, with aerial view of Costa Concordia as it lies on its side next to Giglio Island.

Crews Work To Move Shipwrecked Costa Concordia

Carnival To Spend Millons On Safety Program

safetyDigging deep into Carnival Corporation pockets to address the safety concerns of cruise travelers worldwide, Carnival Cruise Lines is looking to put the past behind them. Today announcing a multi-million comprehensive safety program, the cruise line that just can’t seem to get ahead of the game is taking a different approach: changing it.

This time last month in the article “Carnival Cruise Line Shake Down Begins, And That’s A Good Thing,” Gadling reported that Carnival was in the process of shaking down their ships, looking for and trying to anticipate anything that can go wrong.

“This review is very comprehensive; it will take us a little bit of time to complete it,” said Carnival President and CEO Gerry Cahill. “But you can rest assured that it is our highest priority throughout the entire organization.”

Today, the fruits of those efforts were revealed, with Cahill noting, “by applying lessons learned through our fleet-wide operational review after the Carnival Triumph fire and by taking advantage of new technologies, we have identified areas for enhancement across our operations.”Called the Operating Reliability and Guest Comfort program, the focus is deep, promising to tackle three major areas of concerns to travelers:

safetyEnhance emergency power capabilities- Each ship will have a new, emergency generator that will provide 100 percent of stateroom and public toilets, fresh water and elevators in the event of a loss of main power.

Improve the level of operating redundancies- All ships already have two separate, redundant engine rooms. But new modifications will include a reconfiguration of certain engine-related electrical components.

safetyIntroduce new fire safety technology- Fleet-wide, Carnival will invest in the newest and most technically advanced fire prevention, detection and suppression systems, upgrading the existing water mist systems.

On the guest comfort front, Carnival will expand the availability of hotel services for the comfort of its guests if a shipboard event involves the loss of main power.

Looking beyond Carnival Cruise Lines, the program will be applied to all 101 ships in the Carnival Corporation Fleet, which also includes Princess Cruises, Holland America Line, Cunard Line and Seabourn.

“The overall program of enhancements across the fleet, including Carnival Cruise Lines’ ships, is expected to cost between $600 and $700 million,” said Carnival Corporation spokesperson Lanie Morgenstern in an email.

Included in the announcement was a new video featuring Cahill and Carnival Corporation chairman, Mickey Arison. Accused by the Boston Globe of paying more attention to his Miami Heat than the heat passengers on the Carnival Triumph endured without air-conditioning, Arison goes on the record, describing where safety fits into Carnival’s plans.




[Photo Credit – Carnival Corporation]

Cruise Ships Steer Clear Of Troubled Waters

cruise ship
Travel via cruise ship has a number of advantages. For one example, you can unpack once but visit multiple destinations on a floating hotel. Doing so safely is another, causing cruise lines to constantly consider life as it is at ports of call around the world. What was once a safe place to visit may not be six months from now. That’s when cruise lines alter itineraries and steer cruise ships clear of troubled waters.

Argentina’s Ushuaia has been referred to as the southernmost city in the world with attractions that include the Tierra del Fuego National Park, Lapataia Bay and a host of wildlife viewing, fishing, skiing, hiking, biking, dining and shopping opportunities. Ushuala is also a South American cruise port. When the decades-old tension between Argentina and the United Kingdom over the Falkland Islands heated up recently, cruise lines chose to go a different direction.

“Information had come to our attention that demonstrations may have occurred in Ushuaia that could have impacted the ability of Veendam to enter and leave the port in accordance with accepted maritime practices,” said Sally Andrews, Holland America spokesperson in a TravelPulse report.

But what happens when ports are not accessible?

Cruise lines commonly compensate passengers for missing a port deemed unsafe, substituting another port in its place or adding an extra day at sea.

“As a result of this change, guests onboard were refunded for any shore excursions booked in Ushuaia and the government taxes and fees for the canceled port,” added Andrews.

We saw the same moves made by cruise lines after political unrest in Egypt caused ships to skip a destination many passengers had on their bucket list. Yes, those booked got “a cruise” but it was not “the cruise” they had planned on.

So what to do if my port of call is canceled?

  • If port cancellation happens before sailing, check with the cruise line, they may be offering booked passengers the ability to transfer their booking to a future sailing.
  • Check the details of your travel insurance. While “political unrest” rates run about as high as “weather disruptions” on the easy refund list, some travel insurance policies take into account such matters and while the cruise line may not offer a complete refund for cancellation, insurance can help.
  • Carefully consider cruise line offers to cancel and rebook without penalty. While potentially missing one port of call does not a bad cruise make, if that missed port is the one you were looking the most forward to, the hassle of rebooking and planning different time away from home might be worth it.
  • Negotiate with the cruise line. There is no rule that says booked passengers cannot try to make a case in favor of consideration by the cruise line when a port is canceled. Legally, the cruise line has that covered in the Passenger Contract all travelers agree to before booking. Still, cruise lines know that a little good will goes a long way to smooth over what could be a deal breaker itinerary change to a passenger.

What did those planning on visiting Ushuaia miss? Check this video to see:


[Photo Credit- Flickr user Benjamin Dumas]

Costa Concordia Grounding Brings More Safety Rules, Awareness

Costa Concordia

When the Costa Concordia was grounded off the coast of Italy last January, a call went out to take a focused look at cruise ship safety. Since then, a number of in-depth television specials have been aired, several accounts of the tragic event have been published and maritime experts have come up with specific suggestions. While there can be no guarantee of another event of such magnitude happening ever again, what looks to be a unified cruise industry has taken steps to minimize the chance.

“The cruise industry continues to work on a global level to improve the safety of passengers and crew, which is our number one priority,” said Christine Duffy, president and CEO of the Cruise Lines International Association (CLIA) in Travel Pulse.

Quick reality check: nice thought but no real meat there.

CLIA is a trade organization, not a governing body with legal authority granted by a nation or group of nations to impose or enforce anything. Most of their time is spent lobbying on behalf of the cruise industry, developing and implementing training and certification programs for travel agents and generally promoting the cruise industry.

There is nothing wrong with that. In fact, they do a good job doing what they do. But while new cruise industry policies address safety concerns brought up by the Costa Concordia grounding, travelers would do well to keep their eyes and ears open and be alert when traveling via cruise ship with the same diligence they might apply when traveling in the air or on land.

Still, the cruise industry has adopted every bit of the renewed sense of urgency about safety that we might expect.

“Since January of this year, and in keeping with our efforts to continuously improve operational excellence, the global cruise industry has voluntarily adopted seven wide-ranging safety policies,” added Duffy. “We remain fully committed to exploring further enhancements in a number of areas that will add to the industry’s excellent safety record.”

Previously, implemented policies for increased safety included a passage plan, much like an aircraft flight plan, to address the notion that the captain of Costa Concordia had gone off course on a whim. Access to a ship’s bridge was to be tightened up too, believing unauthorized people may have been hanging around the command center of Costa Concordia at the time of the tragic event. Cruise lines also decided to carry extra life jackets because some passengers on Costa Concordia were in the wrong place at the wrong time when they were needed.

Recently, a rule was added to actually fill lifeboats with people on a periodic basis, just to be sure the crew knew what to expect and do in case of a real emergency.

The meat of the new cruise ship policy:

“To facilitate training for lifeboat operations, CLIA oceangoing members have adopted a policy that at least one lifeboat on each ship is to be filled with crew members equal in number to its certified number of occupants at least every six months. Under this policy, for safety considerations, the loading of lifeboats for training purposes is to be performed only while the boat is waterborne and the boat should be lowered and raised with only the lifeboat crew on board.”

Standardization of operational cruise industry policies among cruise lines is surely a good idea. Lessons learned from the Costa Concordia grounding are producing rules like these from CLIA that will probably save lives in the long run too. Still, smart travelers stay alert, know safety rules and protocols in place for any mode of travel they engage and act responsibly in case of emergency.

See the CLIA website for the full text of their Life Boat Loading for Training Purposes Policy.




[Flickr photo by darkroom productions]

Brave Travelers Wanted: Your Cruise Ship Awaits

Brave travelers might sail on this cruise shipOtherwise brave and robust travelers have been having second thoughts about cruise vacations – and rightfully so. The grounding of Costa Concordia, a fire on Costa Allegra not long after and thoughts of the 100-year anniversary of the sinking of the Titanic are all valid concerns. Wondering what the experience might be like, we bought a ticket for a ride on Princess Cruises‘ newly remodeled Grand Princess and lived to tell about it.

I know for a fact how very safe cruise vacations are; the numbers speak for themselves. I really do believe that cruise lines value our safety as the number one priority at sea and that only makes sense too. After all, at sea is where the show happens and if they don’t take care of business when completely surrounded by ocean in all directions as far as the eye can see, the future looks grim.

But as much as I love this business, I could not help but look at Port Everglades, full of ships as it commonly is on any given Saturday, a bit differently.

Was I scared to go on a cruise?

No.

Did I have any doubt that Princess would deliver a safe, quality experience?

Absolutely not. They are, after all, the line of the Love Boat.

Still, I was about to board a cruise ship. Every single sailing we had done before this did not have the shadow of a modern day maritime event that seriously flirted with disaster hanging over it. Embarkation seemed normal but I found myself looking closely at procedures and precautions taken by the port authority and cruise line. “Were there always TSA agents present?” I asked myself and could not really remember if there were or not. I was glad to see them hanging around though.

Before boarding we were advised that there would be a mandatory safety drill at 3:15 p.m. That sounded like earlier than normal to me and we framed our early afternoon activities around it, giving that time more attention than on previous sailings in our minds. Unpacking, touring the ship and having lunch – everything seemed normal.

Brave travelers on a cruise shipA great deal of attention was given to sanitation procedures, especially in the buffet area where an obvious priority was being placed on good food-handling procedures and eliminating as much opportunity as possible for norovirus situations to happen or get out of control. That made sense after a recent outbreak that caused ships from a number of lines to pump up efforts in that area.

When time came for the safety drill we had already been watching the clock with more interest than on previous sailings and were not surprised to see muster stations fill quickly.

Our safety drill was held in a large public venue, normally used for shows of some sort. We were advised that when the drill began there would be an eight- or nine-minute safety briefing that we should pay attention to.

When that drill started, from the moment it began, those feelings of apprehension that a great many of those on board felt almost instantly went away.

Why? Because when that safety drill started you could have heard a pin drop in that room. The deafening silence was broken only by a small group of teens, probably on a senior trip for spring break. Teens, of course, are indestructible in their minds.

Every single person, and there must have been 300 of them, gave that safety briefing their undivided attention signaling that they understood the importance of it.

Actually listening to the safety briefing as though our lives may depend on the information we were receiving, it was also clearly apparent that the ship was in good hands.

They had a plan on what to do if things went wrong, they knew how to execute it, were practicing part of that plan right then and would be diligent to protect our safety.

No longer were we relying on the undisputed but impersonal statistics of how many millions of people travel safely by cruise ships each year. No longer did we blindly believe it was a safe way to go because we had been on a bunch of cruises and nothing bad ever happened.

When the safety drill was over, the room cleared quickly and passengers went about their business of having a fabulous cruise vacation, whatever that might have meant to each of them. I suspect they might be having an even better time of it too, armed with the truly important information we received that day.

The tragic death of those passengers that did not make it off Costa Concordia will be remembered as a lesson learned by cruise lines, affecting how they do business now and in the future. Still, that event and those people who died should be given credit for arming passengers for many generations to come with a sense of urgency about safety that actually could save many more lives some day.

[Flickr photo via flickrized]

USCG: Audits Make Italy Scenario Unlikely in US