The Concordia sinking … a fire on sister ship Costa Allegra … and a couple of outbreaks of good old fashioned stomach flu a/k/a as Norovirus. From the recent negative news surrounding the cruise industry, it would appear that cruise vacations are about as safe as swimming with sharks or space travel.
The Concordia tragedy is, of course, the foremost cruise incident in most minds. This apparently avoidable incident was by all accounts the result of an irresponsible captain’s blatant showboating and outright negligence. Evacuation and rescue efforts were initially delayed, then compounded by communication barriers and hopelessly disorganized evacuation efforts. The entire incident is, frankly, more than appalling.
While investigation into this incident is ongoing and likely to continue for the foreseeable future, it certainly serve as a reminder that even today’s contemporary cruise ships are susceptible to accident and human errors. Given these facts, how anxious should cruise passengers be about their onboard safety?
Passenger and crew safety has been and remains an overriding concern of the cruise industry. The effectiveness of their safety efforts is perhaps most clearly demonstrated by the statistics. Between 2005 and 2010, while approximately 100 million passengers sailed on cruise vacations, there were just 16 passenger deaths due to casualty. But with 32 confirmed dead or missing in an accident that should never have happened, the Concordia disaster has shaken the entire industry: “All of our members recognize the seriousness of these events,” said Christine Duffy, president of the Cruise Lines International Association, in a press briefing last month. “Safety is our highest priority. It is absolutely essential to our business and there is nothing more important.”
Virtually every cruise line is pouring over policies and refining emergency procedures. It is almost certain that new governmental regulations are forthcoming in response to Concordia. But – in the meantime, how safe from casualty are you on a cruise ship? The above statistics are reassuring You are still safer on a cruise ship than virtually any other form of commercial transportation. And certainly much, much safer than when traveling in your personal vehicle..
How can you best protect yourself in the unlikely event there is an emergency at sea? Pay close attention at the safety drill, memorize the route to your muster station, practice donning your life jacket, and plan to meet your traveling companion at your muster station if you are not together when an emergency strikes. If an alarm is sounded, do not delay. Head immediately for your lifeboat station and follow the prescribed procedures.
The recent electrical fire aboard the Costa Allegra was by all accounts handled ‘by the book’ and the crew quickly contained the fire with no casualties. While passengers were inconvenienced and uncomfortable by the loss of running water and electrical power, the ship ultimately arrived in port with all passengers & crew safe.
Modern ships are equipped with smoke detectors, sprinkler systems and fire extinguishing equipment, and all ships have multiple crews trained in fire fighting techniques. Cruise lines also have strict policies prohibiting use of flame and heat producing devices such as candles and travel irons.
As with most shipboard fires, the Allegra fire began in the engine room, at the lowest level of the ship. To maximize your personal safety when cruising, ask your travel agent to select a stateroom located on one of the higher decks, pay careful attention at the safety drill, know the route to your muster station, and do not smoke in your stateroom.
There have been several recent news accounts regarding outbreaks of Norovirus aboard cruise ships. And at colleges. And at a cheerleading competition. An outbreak of the highly contagious virus can rear its ugly head wherever large groups congregate in close quarters. That includes cruise ships.
Norovirus is spread by person to person contact and can be transmitted when foods are handled by an infected person. It is the culprit in 90% of non-bacterial “stomach flu” infections in the U.S.
How to protect yourself? Your best defense is good personal hygiene and old-fashioned hand-washing. Be aware when touching common services such as handrails and keep hands away from your mouth and face. Take full advantage of the hand sanitizers located throughout the ship – and wash your hands frequently.
Cruise ships are a microcosm of the community and your fellow passengers likely represent a cross-section of society. Each year there are a small number of unfortunate instances of serious crime that include sexual assault, theft and personal injury. Cruise lines do an exceptional job with security and statistically, a cruise passenger is significantly less likely to fall victim to a serious crime onboard a ship than at a land-based resort or in the average community at large.
Those with a criminal mindset don’t particularly care for the confines of a ship where there are no quick getaways and no anonymous individuals. The identities of all passengers are verified and all are photographed prior to boarding; crew members undergo extensive pre-hire background checks; and comings and goings from the ship while in port are carefully documented, including passengers and crew members from the laundry attendants to the captain.
Cruise lines work closely with local authorities to maintain a safe environment at their ports of call. With economies heavily dependent on tourism, local governments are most anxious to keep cruise passengers safe. Still, there are occasional incidents including pickpockets, scams and the more infrequent robbery. To maximize safety, keep a low profile, leave glitzy jewelry and watches in the onboard safe, and don’t flash large sums of cash or multiple credit cards. Book excursions through your travel agent or the ship – or if booking independently, do your research and book in advance to make sure they are reputable and insured.
So … is cruising safe? I answer with a definite yes — cruising is at least as safe as any other vacation option. Book with confidence and have a great time – but exercise common sense. Secure your valuables. Be moderate in your alcohol consumption. Remain aware of your surroundings. Pay attention if your gut says something may not be right. Have a fabulous cruise vacation – just don’t park your good judgment at the pier.
The Group Guru is the ultimate expert in cruise group travel and special events at sea. Call (404) 913-4FUN or email firstname.lastname@example.org