What to do if you have booked a cruise: Q&A


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The Independent Travel

On 13 January 2012, Costa Concordia was sailing north-west from Civitavecchia to Savona on the Italian Riviera. She struck a rock close to the Tuscan island of Giglio and capsized. At least 11 people are known to have died in the shipwreck, and more passengers and crew are still unaccounted for.

Costa Cruises is the biggest cruise company in Europe, and is part of Carnival – the largest cruise firm in the world. Even so, the company’s engagement with customers with future bookings has been minimal. Indeed, 48 hours after the disaster, it was still possible to book cruises on the stricken ship.

Despite repeated requests to the cruise line about matters concerning future customers, as of 20 January all my questions about passengers’ rights remained unanswered. In the absence of any responses to my requests for information from Costa Cruises, this is my best estimate of your rights and prospects.

Q I have a forward booking on Costa Concordia. What are my options?

A All Costa Concordia sailings up to 21 May 2012 have been cancelled. Passengers booked for voyages up to 24 March are being given full refunds plus a voucher for a 30 per cent discount on a future trip. Passenger booked between 24 March and 21 May 2012 have been transferred to what is described as the “brand new Costa neoRomantica”. In fact, she is the refurbished Costa Romantica, a ship launched 20 years ago and currently in dry dock in Genoa. The company says of the ship: “Designed to surprise, it will become a source of constant fun and excitement”.

Q That doesn’t appeal – can I have my money back?

 A Yes, but only if you cancel by 7 February. You must supply your bank account details, even if you paid by credit card.

Q What steps are being taken on Costa Concordia's sister ships following the events of Friday night and Saturday morning in terms of improving safety procedures?

A Costa Concordia has four sister ships within Costa Cruises, with a fifth due to enter service in May. A sixth ship is in service with the firm’s US parent, as the Carnival Splendor.

The company says: “Costa is committed to ensuring that no such incident ever occurs again”. Pier Luigi Foschi, chairman and managing director of Costa Cruises, told an Italian newspaper “Our training courses are the best there are”.

In practice, it is likely that urgent communications are being sent out by the company to ensure that every member of crew is fully aware of standard operating procedures to try to avoid any repeat of the chaotic scenes experienced by the passengers as they tried to escape Costa Concordia.

In the longer term, Signor Foschi said he would be seeking “To replicate on land the system of sounds and signals when a ship deviates from its route: we have to know this earlier. And to work with the government so that captains no longer have absolute power. A more collegiate form of management on the bridge would be better.”

Q Until we know what went wrong I don’t want to sail on a sister ship. Can I get all my money back?

A No. You will lose at least some, and possibly all, your cash. The company says all its ships “have been built to the highest standards and technologies”, and there appears no intention to alter planned voyages by Concordia’s sister ships.

Therefore, unless Costa Cruises decides differently, normal terms apply: broadly, for cancellations three months in advance, the cancellation fee is £100. Cancel with four days or less before departure, or simply become a “no-show”, and all your money will be lost. Travel insurance will not help, since you will be deemed to be “disinclined to travel”, for which there is no compensation.

Q I understand P&O Cruises and Cunard are sister companies within the Carnival group. Can I switch my reservation from Costa to one of their ships?

A Not under current booking conditions. The only way to do it is to cancel, take the financial hit and buy a new cruise.