As Cruise Ships Get Larger, Are They Any Safer?

By: Scott Mayerowitz, Associated Press
By: Scott Mayerowitz, Associated Press

New York, NY (AP) - The grounding and capsizing of the Costa Concordia has raised questions about the safety of the ever-increasing size of cruise ships. But experts say that these new megaships have the latest safety and navigation technology and pose little risk to passengers despite their gargantuan bulk.

The Concordia - a ship more than two-and-a-half football fields long - was carrying more than 4,200 passengers and crew Friday night when it hit a reef off the Italian coast, flooded with water and listed to one side. At least six people died in the accident with another 16 unaccounted for, including two American passengers.

The investigation of the crash is focusing on the ship's captain, not its design.

Pier Luigi Foschi, CEO of Costa Crociere SpA, distanced his cruise line on Monday from the jailed captain, Francesco Schettino, saying that the captain "took an initiative of his own will which is contrary to our written rules of conduct."

Industry watchers also placed the blame on human error.

The accident has more to do with training, oversight and adherence to policies than the design or size of the ship, said Carolyn Spencer Brown, editor of Cruise Critic.

"This was just sloppy," she said. "There's nothing more to the story than this was sloppy and unacceptable."

The Concordia is a little more than five years old and part of a recent trend to build bigger and flashier cruise ships that can carry more passengers than ever before.

The largest of these - Royal Caribbean's Allure of the Seas and sister ship Oasis of the Seas - were launched in the last three years and can carry more than 6,000 passengers. When the Titanic sank nearly a century ago, there were 2,200 people on board.

These larger ships are harder to maneuver and can't fit into all the channels frequented by smaller ships. Alan Wilson, editor of Cruise News Daily, equated it to the difference between driving a Greyhound bus and a tiny Volkswagen car.

But cruise lines and ship captains understand those limitations. Routes are carefully planned with these ships' size in mind.

"There are places they can't go," Wilson said. "They know where they can't fit the ships."

In the case of the Concordia, a safe route was put into the ship's navigation system, the company CEO said. The ship left that course only because the captain made an unauthorized deviation, he said.

Costa is owned by Miami-based Carnival Corp., which operates 101 ships under several brands including Carnival, Cunard, Holland America, Princess and Seabourn. The company said the Concordia would remain out of operation at least through November, causing the company $85 million to $95 million in lost bookings. Carnival also has a $30 million insurance deductible for damage to the ship and a $10 million personal injury deductible.

When an accident does happen, larger ships pose a greater challenge simply because of the sheer number of passengers.

Jack Hickey, a Miami attorney who has practiced maritime law for 32 years, said while cruise ship crews get some training on operation of lifeboats, overall safety training is usually an afterthought.

The sheer size of today's cruise ships only makes the lack of safety training worse, Hickey said, "because now, as opposed to 10 or 20 years ago, you are dealing with thousands and thousands of people. It's very difficult and dangerous to get off a ship like that."

The cruise lines disagree.

"With size comes safety," said William Wright, senior vice president of marine operations for Royal Caribbean International and the first captain of Oasis of the Seas. Royal Caribbean operates seven of the largest 10 ships in the world.

Wright said these megaships are wider, more stable, have the latest navigation systems and more watertight compartmentalization than their predecessors.

Michael Crye, executive vice president of Cruise Lines International Association, the industry's trade association, said that the newer, large ships have better technology to communicate with passengers in case of an emergency, have life jackets in more central locations and carry lifeboats that can be boarded more quickly than prior models.

"As ships have gotten larger, the issues of safety must be planned into these ships," he said. "Along with bigger ships comes more responsibility to safety."

Since 2005, Crye said, more than 100 million people have taken cruises worldwide. There have been just 16 deaths from accidents in that period.


AP Writer Curt Anderson in Miami contributed to this report.

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  • by Tom Location: TLH on Jan 18, 2012 at 07:40 PM
    I can hear the captain now: "Hold my beer and watch this!"
  • by Tom Location: Tallahassee on Jan 17, 2012 at 04:42 PM
    The ships may be safe, but apparently the captains may not be - weakest link and all.
  • by Anonymous on Jan 17, 2012 at 12:33 PM
    Are you saying that small ships are safer than big ships? Seems to me that the data is already out there, and all you have to do is compare safety on ships between small cruise ships and large cruise ships. My initial guess is that they would be safer with more safety equipment and staff.
  • by Anonymous on Jan 17, 2012 at 12:22 PM
    If you do your homework you'll find out that there are already plans to repair this ship and have it operating(possibly before the end of 2012).
  • by Steve Location: Florida native/resident on Jan 17, 2012 at 11:51 AM
    An oceanliner/cruiseship should NOT carry SIX THOUSAND PASSENGERS! You cannot place this many passengers on a piece of steel that covers 11 acres of ocean surface! You cannot build it with fourteen floors above the waterline, and expect it to float! It's not a cork. It's an oceanliner with thousands aboard! Bigger is not better. Thanx.
    • reply
      by Anonymous on Jan 17, 2012 at 02:29 PM in reply to Steve
      Why not? Maybe they shouldn't carry more than 62. You are just pulling a number out of your ..... without any data to back up what you are saying. Have you designed any cruise ships? Have you studied engineering? please leave the safety and passenger counts to those that can handle the task. I think I hear the buzzer on the fry machine, get back to work.
    • reply
      by Tom on Jan 17, 2012 at 05:52 PM in reply to Steve
      Steve, it's not eleven acres, it's about 2 1/2. Are you a marine engineer? As long as the water it displaces weighs more than the ship, it'll float. Technically, it's not an ocean liner, it's a cruise liner. There's a difference.
    • reply
      by Steve Florida native/resident on Jan 18, 2012 at 12:39 PM in reply to Steve
      If you had read the article{like you are supposed too...}You would have read that the thing THEY JUST BUILT carries 6000! And that one DOES cover 11 acres! Thanx.
      • reply
        by Tom on Jan 18, 2012 at 07:30 PM in reply to Steve Florida native/resident
        The Allure of the Seas is the ship you're referring to. It's 1,187' long and 208' wide. That's a total of 5.67 acres. Its "footprint" in the sea is considerably less. Looks like it's time for some remedial math. Like Anonymous said, "The fries are ready."
  • by just wondering. on Jan 17, 2012 at 06:48 AM
    I wonder what they will do with this ship now that it lay aruin. remove it, repair it, or what just wondering.
  • by J Location: Tallahassee on Jan 17, 2012 at 05:45 AM
    Every cruise I have been on has had a required safety drill before the ship sets sail. Cruise ships are safe and a tragedy like this rarely happens. It seems this instance was not a matter of ship safety...just an idiot captain.
  • by MJN Location: Crawfordville on Jan 17, 2012 at 05:35 AM
    We have been on 11 cruises, mostly with Royal Caribbean. We have never even left port before the lifeboat drills were done. Yes, they are annoying but we were always glad they were done. It made us feel better to at least know where to go in an emergency. It amazes me to see how lax Costa was in their training and that passengers can get on and off at different ports instead of everyone embarking at the SAME port. It is obvious that this causes so much confusion when it came time to deal with the emergency. It seems there is no argument for the cause of the accident. That captain should never see the light of day for all the turmoil he has caused. I feel really sad for all those families who have lost loved ones or who have had to go thru such terrifying moments on what should have been a wonderful vacation. Prayers to those in need.
  • by dumb on Jan 16, 2012 at 08:16 PM
    This accident occurred because of a egotistic Captain. Cruise ships are fun, let it go.
  • by AMW Location: Tally on Jan 16, 2012 at 07:05 PM
    I went on the Royal Caribbean Freedom of the Seas the first week of December. Before we set sail, it was required to attend the safety meeting at the muster stations. You had to have your room card scanned by a staff member and all passenegers had to be scanned and in the system before we could set sail. It was frustrating, and hot standing there huddled together with strangers, but a necessary thing to do.
    • reply
      by Anonymous on Jan 17, 2012 at 12:35 PM in reply to AMW
      Did this make the ship any safer? Safety procedures don't make the ship safer, it makes our reactions to any incident better. There is a difference.
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