Cruise safety 'is top priority'


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The Independent Online

Europe's passenger ship cruise industry will make swift safety changes if any are needed following the Costa Concordia accident, Euro-MPs were told today.

In a letter to a European Parliament transport committee hearing on "Maritime Safety after the Concordia accident", the head of the European Cruse Council (ECC) said passenger and crew safety was top priority and the sector remained "one of the safest recreational industries globally".

ECC chairman Manfredi Lefebvre d'Ovidio pointed out the "extremely low" number of fatalities - only 16 deaths "related to marine casualities" between 2005-2010, during which time cruise lines carried nearly 100 million people.

His letter went on: "There is, however, never any room for complacency and, as the industry has grown, the International Maritime Organisation, the EU and other regulators around the world have updated and further enhanced the safety regime of cruise ships."

Robust international and EU rules currently uphold the highest technical and operational standards of cruise ship design, build, maintenance and operation, he said.

Mr d'Ovidio added: "However, as more details emerge about the Costa Concordia accident, we will be closely examining what changes need to be made to further improve cruise ship safety.

"If it becomes clear that corrective measures are necessary, we will work together as an industry with regulators to ensure that recommended measures are swiftly adopted and applied".

The ECC, representing more than 30 cruise ship companies operating in Europe, has been working with the European Commission on a maritime law review, which EU Transport Commissioner Siim Kallas announced last week would take into account any lessons from the Italian tragedy.

The Commissioner said the challenge was to ensure that safety rules for passenger ships fully kept pace with the latest designs and technologies.

Today he told the European Parliament committee hearing in Brussels that shipping had an "impressive" safety record despite "intense" levels of traffic.

But he insisted: "Our aim is to increase the effectiveness of the safety rules for passenger vessels on domestic voyages and the operational standards of all passenger ships coming to or leaving EU ports.

"We are considering rules improving the stability of passenger ships after damage or collision, and looking at registration of passengers and evacuation procedures."

Meanwhile the Commission, via the European Maritime Safety Agency, was in regular touch with the Italian authorities and was closely following preparations to remove more than 2,300 tons of fuel oil from the vessel.

Mr Kallas is holding talks within weeks with cruise industry representatives and is hosting a "Safety of Passenger Ships" conference in the Spring.

Conservative MEP Jacqueline Foster warned today hearing against "trial by television and trial by newspapers", concerning the Costa Concordia disaster.

Transport committee chairman and Labour MEP Brian Simpson agreed, warning that it was too easy to "point the finger of blame".

He added: "It is good practice to wait until the official report".