Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Cruise Ship Disaster?

Print Friendly and PDF By now everybody who has access to any form of news media must be aware of the unfortunate accident involving the Costa Concordia off the coast of Italy this past weekend.  Any accident that leads to injury and/or loss of life is a bad accident, and there is no way to argue that.

What I must argue, however, is the media's latest bout of stories regarding how this accident will be a harm to the industry: people will be afraid to take cruises, the industry is under-policed, the companies take too many risks, etc., etc.  All of those stories, in my mind, are "missing the boat."

The major fact regarding this accident are that a 99%+ of the people aboard survived. They may not have had a "nice" time getting off the ship, confusion might have reigned, but they are alive and kicking. Considering what they had just been through, they should be thankful.  Of course there was confusion: this was a first time event for virtually everyone aboard.  I can't say that no one aboard had experience with this type of accident, but I can be pretty sure saying that almost nobody did. None of us know how we would react in such a situation, so we ought to refrain from excessive comment about ship employees seeming confused and passengers being pushy.

I have heard people say that the ship was lucky in that it was close to shore: that helped the survival rate.  But let's be real: it was the ship being too close to shore that caused the accident in the first place. Perhaps it was the ship's captain that put it in danger, perhaps something else happened.  Until we know exactly why the ship was there, we are just speculating. I would like to believe that the captain was the one responsible, because human error is easy to understand, if hard to accept.  Whatever happened, the captain's leadership qualities can be called into question (not necessarily blamed, yet.)  The ship's listing made evacuation problematic, so maybe the best decision the captain could have made would have been to abandon the ship sooner. That, however, is assuming he had all necessary information at hand.

If we limit ourselves to the human element in this accident, we will have to refrain  from calling it a major maritime disaster. If we look at the dollar side, it looms much larger.  We might consider it the reverse of the capsizing of the Ethan Allen on Lake George in 2005, where 21 out of 49 people perished. That accident involved a relatively small boat, but had a much much bigger human impact than did this accident involving the Costa Concordia.

As regards the cruise industry and its potential customers I can only say that the system isn't perfect, but it's pretty good.  A ship took a major hit and over 99% of its passengers and crew are alive to talk about it. When this happened to US Airways in the Hudson, we called it a miracle and praised its captain.

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