Cruise bosses stress safety of ships


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The Independent Online

The cruise industry sought to reassure concerned members of the public about the safety of ships today as divers resumed the search for 21 people still missing after the Costa Concordia capsized.

Industry executives stressed that safety is the number one priority of cruises and said incidents such as this are extremely rare.

Speaking at a Passenger Ship Safety Association briefing, Christine Duffy, president and chief executive of the Cruise Lines International Association, said: "All cruise ships must be designed, built, operate and maintained and meet requirements of international law.

"The cruise industry is heavily regulated in compliance with the strict standards of the International Maritime Organisation (IMO), the UN agency that mandates global standards."

Ms Duffy called on the IMO to undertake a comprehensive evaluation from the findings of the Costa Concordia investigation so that lessons can be learnt from the disaster.

Costa Cruises, the company that owns the stricken liner, which ran into a reef and capsized last Friday, confirmed it is contacting all surviving guests to make sure they have returned home safely and to offer a refund for the cruise and all expenses relating to it.

A statement from the company said: "Costa Crociere also reiterates that it is in contact with its guests and all consumer protection associations to determine indemnity for the hardship endured, with the support of the tour operator association of each country.

"Costa Cruises confirms both the constant commitment and care it devotes every day to safety and its dedication to relations with the guests who represent the company's most important asset, as they have done for more than 60 years.

"Costa Cruises would like once again to express its great sadness over the victims and its support for their families."

Eleven people have so far been confirmed dead and the 21 missing included a five-year-old Italian girl and her father.

Questions have been raised about why the safety briefing, which would have informed passengers how to respond in an emergency, was not due to happen until the Saturday, after the ship was wrecked.

Speaking at the briefing, Captain William Wright, Royal Caribbean International's senior vice president of marine operations, said it was rare for safety drills to happen after the ship has left harbour.

He said: "It is clear in the vast majority of departures, passenger safety drills occur prior to the ship letting go of its lines and leaving the dock. There have been examples, as this was the case, because of the late time of the departure, the drill was elected to be done the following day, which is in keeping with existing international regulations.

"Undoubtedly that is a practice that will come under some scrutiny in the weeks and months to come."

The £292 million ship was carrying 4,200 passengers and crew when it capsized after the captain made an unauthorised diversion from his programmed route.

Captain Francesco Schettino has been placed under house arrest and faces possible charges of manslaughter causing a shipwreck and abandoning his ship.

When asked about the saying that "a captain goes down with his ship", Vice Admiral Sir Alan Massey, chief executive of the UK Maritime and Coastguard Agency, said there was no basis for this in international law and said in many cases it may not even be the most appropriate step to take.

"It is more myth than reality," he said.

Captain Wright said such a law was "unwritten".

He said: "It goes without saying that, being a captain myself and knowing my colleagues in my company and others I have worked in, it is an unwritten rule or law of the sea and I find it hard to understand circumstances, although I can speculate what those circumstances might be, why that might not be the case.

"We know far, far too little at this point to speculate why the captain of the Concordia, if this is the case, left the ship prior to everyone having been evacuated."

At the briefing, at the Millennium Hotel in Kensington, west London, Dr Allen denied bigger ships were less safe than smaller ships.

He said: "Big ships give you the flexibility for other safety initiatives that you cannot have on smaller ships. You actually have a better platform to organise better platforms to improve the survivability of the ship."

Captain Wright added: "Life saving appliances are tooled to the size of the ship so the size isn't a factor."

The executives stressed how heavily regulated the industry is and the extensive training both the captain and ship's staff undergo.