Forever gone, and thankfully so, are the days when lifeboat drills are taken lightly. The words “in the unlikely event of abandoning ship” will be questioned for some time. The drills are no longer party time and hiding in the bathroom (to avoid participating) will no longer be tolerated.
Having taken part in many lifeboat drills over the years, we have seen passengers show up late and some not showing up at all. However, in all fairness to the industry, most cruise lines have for some time been running much stricter drills than in the past and, in our experience, have been conducting lifeboat drills before departure. Still, with many passengers already in party moods, these exercises have seldom been taken very seriously.
Following the Costa Concordia incident, Cruise Industry News was bombarded by so-called “ambulance chasers,” ranging from lawyers, who offered their expert opinions (while seeking exposure for their services), to consultants and publishing companies, trying to cash in on the tragedy with seminars, even dedicated publications tracking cruise ship incidents over the years.
At Cruise Industry News, we have instead tried to ask some questions, which have been partially answered as follows:
• If the chain of events started when the Concordia went off course, could this have been prevented by a simple alert system? As airlines track their planes, cruise lines can surely track their ships?
• Could an active underwater sonar have alerted the bridge of the rocks? Since 2005, airplanes have been required to carry a “terrain avoidance” system in the U.S.
• Would a cofferdam along the side of the hull along the largest compartments have protected the ship? A naval architect suggested that this may have resulted in more shallow damage and less flooding.
• Would a double hull have prevented or slowed down the ingress of water, thus reducing the listing and facilitating evacuation into lifeboats? However, there are claims that double hulls cannot prevent flooding in high-energy contact situations, when the inner compartments will be penetrated as well.
• In terms of bridge management, cruise lines today have two navigators manning the bridge, although the rules only require one. Does the pilot/co-pilot system provide enough checks and balances?
• Can ships be built of thicker or stronger steel? In principle that is possible, according to naval architects, but with marginal effects.
• And last, but not least, how did the officers, crew and staff manage to evacuate more than 4,000 people with only access to half the lifeboats and rafts? A laudable and under-appreciated feat of valor.
Meanwhile, we are waiting for the results of the investigation being conducted by Italian authorities. However, that is not preventing us from going back to sea.