Costa Concordia disaster prompts change

Cruise line industry responds with new safety rules, while maritime law experts propose further changes

January’s Costa Concordia shipwreck has unleashed a sea change in the cruise industry.

In February, the Cruise Lines International Association (CLIA), which comprises 26 major cruise lines, responded to the Costa Concordia disaster in an open letter from its president and CEO, Christine Duffy.         

Duffy announced the CLIA’s launch of a Cruise Industry Operational Safety Review, which will “include a comprehensive assessment of critical human factors and operational aspects of maritime safety.” The review also will allow cruise lines to share best practices for safety while consulting with external experts.

The letter also introduced a new emergency drill policy that requires cruises to conduct lifeboat evacuation drills with passengers before leaving port.     

Robert A. McKenzie, a lawyer at Arnstein & Lehr, predicts other adjustments will soon follow. “We’re going to see a renewed focus on following known shipping routes, not diverting off of them, and probably a renewed focus on relying on electronic navigation equipment as opposed to going off course as [Costa Concordia’s Captain Schettino] did in this case.”

Meanwhile, McKenzie and James Chatz, of counsel at Arnstein & Lehr, are proposing changes within the command structure on cruise ships. “Hopefully we’re going to see a little bit of re-examination of the captain’s authority on these vessels because, as it stands now, and as it has been for a long time, captains pretty much have an autocracy here,” McKenzie says. “They can do just about anything they want on the high seas, and it’s very hard to question their decisions. In this case, it would’ve made a big difference if the officers could step up and stop him from doing this.”

McKenzie says that the Costa Concordia’s captain, Francesco Schettino, likely would have accused his crew of mutiny—a crime that could cost them their jobs—if they had challenged his decision to deviate from his course. “That’s not really a big incentive for somebody who’s working on one of these vessels to question a captain even when he’s doing something that’s out of the ordinary or is possibly inappropriate.”

Ashley Post

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