It could be two years before official recommendations to improve cruise ship safety are implemented following the Costa Concordia disaster, although operators are expected to act to review procedures more quickly.
The Cruise Lines International Association (CLIA) announced at the Passenger Shipping Safety Conference in London that it had called for the International Maritime Organisation (IMO) to carry out a “comprehensive evaluation” of the findings of the Concordia tragedy.
This will start this spring at the next meeting of the IMO safety committee at which Italian investigators will deliver their initial findings before other international bodies put forward their recommendations.
However, asked about the likely timescale for action to be taken, Tom Allan, an independent consultant to the maritime industry who has represented the UK on the IMO, said the international response would take “a few years”.
However he said the industry would be working to take things forward in the shorter term to ensure the safety of cruise vessels and to review procedures in the light of the Concordia sinking.
“I guess the industry, getting together with the various bodies, will look at what initiatives will need to be taken forward. I feel that the ship operators themselves will be looking at their own procedures to make sure that they are being approved and are available and subject to scrutiny.”
In an international media briefing at the safety conference, speakers defended the safety of ever-larger modern cruise ships, that can carry more than 4,000 passengers.
Allan said: “Larger ships give you more flexibility in the sub-division of the ship, it gives you a bigger platform to work with regards to the evacuation.
“The industry has been very good recently in particular in taking forward new initiatives and what the larger ship does is give you that opportunity to take advantage of that.”
Allan added: “The stability standards for the larger ships are no different to the others. I can assure you for these larger ships there is really no difference.
“The point to emphasise here is that while on the one hand it’s quite easy to jump to conclusions that big ships are by definition going to be riskier, I would point out that safety standards have kept pace with the increases in size, the number of passengers and crew.
“All of these aspects are making survivability much, much more likely irrespective of the size of the ships.”
Captain Bill Wright, senior vice president for marine operations at Royal Caribbean Cruise Lines, defended the training of crew in the light of reports that Concordia’s master took an unauthorised route.
“The industry is highly regulated. The requirements of a future mariner progressing from cadet to master of a ship of any size typically involves four-year university level education.
“Once you have the technical theoretical education, you have to go through a long process of working your way through the ranks. It’s quite a long and tedious process before you find yourself in charge of a modern ship of any type.”
Richard Evenhand, managing director of V.Ships Leisure UK, a crew recruitment and training expert, said training of crew was comprehensive and stringent and every crew member has to demonstrate their competence in order to be allowed to work onboard.
Speaking to reporters after the briefing, Sir Alan Massey, chief executive of UK Maritime and Coastguard Agency, said regular checks are carried out of ships in British ports including requiring crew to carry out emergency procedures.
He revealed of the 1,459 checks carried out last year 57 ships were detained because the authorities were not happy with the performance.
Asked about the Costa Concordia captain’s alleged abandoning of his ship before all passengers were evacuated, he said: “There is no basis in international law for the notion that the captain goes down with the ship or even as the last to leave.
“In many cases that might not be the most appropriate step to take. From a regulatory perspective there is more myth than reality in that notion.”
Captain Wright added: “It goes without saying being a captain in my company and among colleagues in other companies that is an unwritten law of the sea.
“I can speculate but I find it hard to understand circumstances where that may not be the case. It’s too early to speculate and we do not have enough information to speculate about why the captain of the Concordia left the ship.”
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