The UK’s top cruise executive is primed to front the industry’s response to questions about ship safety in the aftermath of the Titanic centenary and ongoing investigation into the Costa Concordia sinking.
David Dingle, chief executive of Carnival UK, who has spent almost all his career in the cruise sector, knows more than anyone how far it had come convincing people that cruising was safe.
He admits to feeling deep sadness about the events of January 13 this year when 32 people were killed after the Costa Cruises ship ran aground off Italy.
But he is also acutely aware that, however much the industry must show sensitivity towards the victims and their families, it can’t allow that single tragic accident to overshadow its achievements.
It is a precarious public relations line to tread, but the industry was accused of not acting quickly enough after Concordia sank.
“It’s almost because the industry has such a good safety record that when something awful does happen it’s bound to make people ask questions,” said Dingle.
Modern ships bristle with technology designed to prevent what happened to Concordia but that can’t account for human intervention and error.
However, this has not stopped the media and television documentary makers using the latest disaster at sea to draw parallels with that most infamous of sinkings in the Atlantic 100 years ago last weekend.
“You should not start ascribing relative values to loss of life – one is one too many – but an air disaster is as terrifying as one at sea and the loss of life is usually much greater,” said Dingle.
“Unfortunately, in very rare circumstances in the transport industry accidents will happen. The circumstances will differ but there is a risk with any means of transport incorrectly handled.
“I strongly refute the accusation that things have not changed [since Titanic]. There have been enormous advances in terms of ship design, methods of evacuation, technology and training.
“It has to be remembered that over 4,000 people survived the Costa disaster. The reason we have not reinforced that message is it feels wrong when 32 people did lose their lives.
“It’s purely out of respect. Somehow it feels a whole lot worse when this happens on a person’s holiday and when it involves families or children.”
Dingle’s roles with the Passenger Shipping Association and European Cruise Council means he is not only an operator and retailer of cruise but is also closely involved in regulation.
And it is this that makes him an expert on the rules that govern ship design, rules that he insists have not been relaxed to allow for larger ships to generate greater revenues.
“I have spent 20 years being intimately involved in new ship design and know exactly what the limits are,” Dingle said.
“Whenever we try to accommodate more passengers, every safety device or safety management has to be upscaled so the ship can be abandoned within 30 minutes.”
Dingle concedes the UK’s connection with Titanic means we have a contradictory attitude towards shipping disasters, ranging from terror to fascination. But his perspective comes from a sense that a shared maritime heritage binds nations when accidents like that of Concordia do happen.
He added: “Your own responsibility is enormously deepened. You cannot imagine how badly impacted the whole of Italy was by this, not only at the loss of life but of dented pride.”
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