Travel agents have received direct reassurance about the safety of mega cruise ships from the top expert at leading operator Royal Caribbean Cruise Lines, which owns the world's two largest vessels.
Captain Bill Wright, who was in charge of the 5,400-passenger Oasis of the Seas when it entered service as the world’s largest cruise ship just over two years ago, spoke to agents while on a visit to the UK.
Capt. Wright, RCCL’s senior vice president of marine operations - in London for the Cruise Lines International Association Passenger Shipping Safety Conference - took questions from agents seven days after the Costa Concordia disaster.
Forty agents dialled into a conference call as he addressed issues ranging from the size of ships, crew training, safety drills and the industry’s safety record.
Royal Caribbean International has withdrawn UK advertising in the immediate wake of the Costa tragedy, but associate vice president and general manager Jo Rzymowska said that the decision was being reviewed on a day-to-day basis.
Speaking as chair of the Passenger Shipping Association cruise section, she said: “It’s in times like this that we can unite as an industry and be even stronger.
"We are talking to Ace to respond to agents and to emphasise that cruise continues to offer the great holiday that it does.”
Capt. Wright said it was important for agents to emphasise the cruise industry’s exemplary safety record when dealing with customers who may be nervous about booking a cruise following the Costa Concordia incident.
“Agents should be simply talking about the facts about the safety record we have. Although tragic, this was a highly unusual event,” he said.
Capt. Wright described the cruise industry as being one of the most highly regulated in the world.
Emphasising the safety record of cruising, he said there were just 21 fatalities resulting from maritime incidents out of 117 million passengers carried worldwide between 2005 and 2011.
“Taking a cruise is one of the safest things to do, more so than driving to the port,” he said.
Capt. Wright said more than 99% of Royal Caribbean passenger safety drills took place ahead of ships leaving port, adding: “There should be no exceptions moving forward.”
Addressing the issue of bigger ships, he said: “There is no doubt that with the newer size of ships there has been escalating levels of on board safety.
"The lifeboats are small ships in their own right and we can keep life jackets close to assembly stations, this is all part of the basic design of these ships.”
New technology allows captains to monitor muster drills in real time with passengers required to swipe their cabin entry and payment cards as they attend. This enables the crew to ensure all passengers participate and are in the correct muster station.
Meanwhile, Royal Caribbean rival P&O Cruises and Cunard parent company Carnival UK confirmed it pulled advertising immediately after the Costa accident.
"It was appropriate and considerate for the Carnival UK brands to immediately withdraw marketing activity from last Saturday where possible. We will monitor this closely on a day-to-day basis,"a spokesperson said.
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