The Titanic Chronicles: This Week We Remember

Today’s cruise industry exists and operates safely in many ways as a result of the Titanic tragedy. Still, recent maritime events including the grounding of Costa Concordia nearly brought to pass the most feared event in the world of cruise vacations. This week, with Sunday marking the 100th anniversary of the Titanic sinking, we take a look at the legacy left behind that affects cruise passengers on every sailing of every ship.

If you have seen the movie you know the basic story. Four days into a transatlantic crossing, the ship hit an iceberg just before midnight then sank hours later. In one of the deadliest disasters in maritime history, over 1500 people died in the icy water south of the Grand Banks of Newfoundland.

Going down this road, safety at sea comes up as a primary topic when thinking of the Titanic.

In the travel business, “Titanic” is a word avoided almost as much as “torpedoes” and “pirates.” Common advice given to new cruise travel agents has been: “If you say the word ‘sink’ you better be talking about a place to wash out your coffee cup and if you say the word ‘sunk’ you better be talking about basketball.” When asked what he thought would happen to the cruise business if a cruise ship sank today, a cruise line sales manager told me over lunch one day, “Oh, we don’t even talk about that.” The mood of that luncheon became somber from that point on.

Those keywords are not what we want to think about. It’s not the pretty picture of a serene cruise vacation that marketers want us to buy into. Cruise lines and the travel industry as a whole want those images to be as far from our minds as possible. Ninety-nine years puts a lot of time between today and the sinking of the Titanic when 1517 passengers died.Still, there are people charged to never forget Titanic and make it their job to take lessons learned back then, build upon them and move forward.

It can be as simple as the intensity that today’s cruise ship crew members have during the typical safety drill performed at the beginning of each cruise. This is not a time for joking around and having a frozen cocktail. That came before the safety drill and will resume after. Now passengers follow directions during a safety drill understanding that this is the time to practice what to do if faced with the worst possible event at sea.

It can be as complex as set-in-stone rules regarding documentation needed to board a passenger ship. The requirements are strict and systems on board keep track of every passenger coming on or going off a ship. Behind-the-scenes activities, performed by everyone from travel agents to embarkation staff at the pier, help insure a safe voyage.

It can be as commonplace as a change in the itinerary of a cruise ship due to weather, safety or mechanical concerns. That topic has come up a lot recently as ships from all major cruise lines canceled calls to trouble-spots around the globe. Each year during hurricane season, itineraries are commonly changed to avoid major storms. Not long ago, a major cruise ship lost power and had to be towed back to port.

Cruise liners today are much bigger and better equipped. At 46,328 gross registered tons, Titanic was the largest and most advanced ship of her day. Today’s largest and most advanced ship, Allure of the Seas, is more than four times larger and carries almost twice as many people. Big ships are not nearly as “remarkable” as they were in 1912. Shipyards seem to crank them out as fast as they are ordered. Cruise lines deploy ships all over the planet now without hesitation to move one if an itinerary does not produce the anticipated financial results.

Are today’s cruise lines operating as safely as possible?

Is it possible to ever have another Titanic-like event?

These were ongoing questions asked prior to the grounding of Costa Concordia, the ship that suffered a similar fate off the coast of Italy earlier this year. Today’s shipbuilders stop short of calling ships “unsinkable,” as White Star Line did of Titanic in 1912, but still place a great emphasis on safety. Lessons from Titanic brought plenty of lifeboats on board for everyone and mandatory safety drills so passengers and crew could abandon ships in an orderly manner.

Lessons from Concordia will no doubt leave a similar legacy, not allowing Captains to deviate from planned courses to show off the ship, reaffirming a commitment to safety and looking for new ways to make ships safer.

Flickr photo by paukrus