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Cruise Line Ship Safety Called Into Question after Captain Abandons Ship

The safety of cruise ships is once again being called into question after a captain’s recent error led to a deadly crash in a reef. The Costa Concordia, which grounded of the coast of Italy before capsizing, has been making sensational headlines ever since. Officials are still endeavoring to discover exactly what happened in the moments leading up to the tragedy, but they do know that the captain abandoned ship, blatantly flouting the accepted code of ethics. So far he has been charged with manslaughter, causing a wreck and abandoning ship before ensuring the safe evacuation of the ship’s passengers. Over 100 people were injured and while the death toll is capped at 16, that number is expected to increase as the search for bodies continues. As Costa Crociere SpA awaits the advent of wrongful death lawsuits that are sure to follow, the company has preemptively decided to compensate uninjured passengers with 11,000 euro ($14,460) apiece, as recompense for lost baggage and psychological distress. Should the uninjured passengers elect to accept this amount, the chances are that they will be precluded from launching lawsuits of their own.

The Concordia tragedy has highlighted some prevailing and certainly troubling issues concerning cruise line emergency procedures and practices. Some personal injury attorneys believe that cruise line passengers will quickly begin to see changes when it comes to sailing safety rules, standards, and mariner training. Others are more than convinced that the tragedy is highly unlikely to prompt big changes anytime soon. There are several reasons for this disbelief, with cost being the primary, and understandable, challenge. In fact, David Loh, a maritime lawyer with Cozen O’Connor in New York and a former lieutenant commander in the U.S. Navy, told a reporter at Reuters that imposing a heavier “level of training and certification [on ship crew] would be perceived as being quite onerous.”

Currently though, in the United States at least, it seems to be incredibly easy to take to sea – for both crew and passengers. This, I think, continues to be the true problem when it comes to passenger safety. Private training schools set the basic safety course for mariners at their own discretion (although the route to becoming an actual captain is more rigorous). To lessen the likelihood of fatalities, and lessen the likelihood of liability, crew members need a training schedule that is just as rigorous as the captain’s – so that the crew knows what actions need to be taken if something does happen to the captain. Before boarding, passengers are often only given a very cursory safety overview, and sometimes they aren’t given an overview at all. As ships continue to evolve in size, these safety drills become even more imperative. Passengers need to know where the escape routes are and protocols for exiting the ship in order to avoid injury due to panic.

On the whole, setting sail on a cruise ship is fairly safe and such accidents rarely occur. According to the Cruise Lines International Association, more than 16 million passengers sailed in 2011, and 2012 is projected to exceed that by at least another million. However, as the blogger at www.gadling.com points out one could argue that the sinking of the Titanic a century ago was ostensibly a rare occurrence – yet the loss of life is undeniable and it’s a story of striking loss that has far-reaching effects to this very day (and that’s a case where the dedicated captain tried to save his passengers before he went down with the ship).