How Cruise Ship operators have improved their safety procedures since the Costa Concordia disaster

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New regimes and safety practices have been adopted by the cruise industry following the Costa Concordia disaster in 2012 which cost 32 people their lives, and a hefty estimated $billion clean up. Which is reassuring given the continued dramatic proliferation of very large cruise ships over the past 10 years.

There are four key areas where the cruise industry has improved its standards and procedures in the past 10 years to safeguard passenger ships, guests and their crew, ending the historic “cult of the Captain” that prevailed in some ships’ cultures.

1. Company Oversight
The large operators now have continual, real time monitoring of ships from control rooms ashore, with immediate communication with each ship. Effective oversight of ships’ passage plans is now conducted more thoroughly at company level, with any deviations to those plans requiring management approval.

Therefore while cruise-bys will still happen, they should be properly planned and approved in the same way as any other navigational passage would be. It is no more dangerous doing a cruise-by than it would be going through a hazardous narrow channel for genuine navigational purposes.

There is no reason not to do a cruise-by if it’s all part of the guest experience, they just need to do be fully and properly, with planned approval from the company before it can happen.

2. Standard of Audit
This is the ability to check Voyage Data Recorders (VDR) recordings and navigational recordings to audit and review passages. The monitoring of Bridge Team performance is easier with modern VDRs compared to what was possible 10 years ago.

3. Bridge Teams
The way that Bridges operate has changed significantly and for the better. Rather than the Captain conning the more challenging navigation, more Junior officers will be responsible for the agreed passages, including manoeuvring on and off the berth, with the Captain overseeing the operation.

There’s much less of a Captain down culture, which prevailed previously, and much more a team effort to ensure the safe navigation of the planned passage. The training in Bridges Teams is now much more collaborative too, with the benefit of full mission bridge simulators and greater resources to ensure Bridge Teams can attend at the same time.

Everyone expects to fill other people’s roles and everyone is encouraged to speak up. The cult of the Captain, for want of a better phrase, has, hopefully, disappeared.

4. Effective Drills
Previously, crew drills and passenger drills were conducted on separate occasions, but neither of them reflected reality. Now drills are more frequently combined and there is more effort and understanding from passengers that they will be asked to get involved in drills.

So what could still be improved?


Photo Credit: Channel 5 / ITN Productions

The continual development of realistic drills needs to be developed further. While the level of realism, confusion and panic – that the Costa Concordia documentary shows is possible – is not possible, it’s important to make drills as effective as they can be – by using smoke machines and isolating electrical systems.

Emergency situations are thankfully rare. Drills for imagined scenarios often involve groundings and fires that go out with a good couple of fire hoses, but on the day there may well be a random event which will make the situation more challenging, and the Costa Concordia is a prime example of one that could not be foreseen. The unknown unknown can’t be planned for, but realistic drills with everyone keyed up for what they might need to do in a real and evolving emergency, are a necessary requirement.

The bottom line is that a significant incident will happen again, at some time. When and how is obviously unknown, but the Cruise industry needs to be ready.

Incredible decade of growth

  • As of December 2018, there were 314 cruise ships operating worldwide.
  • Ship sizes, and the numbers of passengers carried on each ship, have also significantly increased.
  • The Mediterranean is the third biggest sailing region by market share after the Caribbean and Asia Pacific.

Channel 5’s two part documentary The Sinking of the Costa Concordia, was produced by ITN Productions and is available to watch in the UK on catch-up and via My5.

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