Q – We are scheduled to take a cruise on a line called Azamara this coming August. It was to do the coastline of Italy near the area where the Luxury Liner went down. My husband wants to just cancel, saying the port pilots obviously do not know what they were doing. What is your take on this?
A – It is a bit early for us to have a take that is worth very much. The news is still just hours old and this is clearly a black mark for an industry that has an enviable safety record. If you cancel your cruise, we don’t know where you might go since staying at home is statistically far more dangerous. Flying in an airplane and cruising at sea are about the safest places you can be on this planet of ours.
The reporting in the early hours has been interesting because it refers to Costa’s Concordia, built in 2006 as a “luxury” vessel. In fact, it is a lovely vessel with modern interior design that appeals to it’s core Italian customers. But Costa, once an independent company, is now a brand in the Carnival Cruise Lines stable. In addition to Costa, Carnival owns well known brands Holland America, Princess Cruises, and the luxury line, Seabourn among other lines. Carnival is the largest cruise company in the world by a rather large margin. Costa is generally regarded as a budget or entry-level product with prices to match. Costa provides an “Italian Experience at Sea” and the ships feature Italian officers and cuisine. Costa markets heavily to Americans when their ships are in the Caribbean, but they are normally considered very much a Euro-centered product. The Concordia had very few Americans on board, and most of its 3200 passengers on this Med cruise were from Italy with about 500 Germans and a smattering of other nationalities. It is too early to know to what degree a local pilot was involved as the ship sailed close to land near Guglio, a small port not very far from the lush Tuscan landscape. One of the most important questions to be addressed in the next several days will center around the issue of just who was responsible for notifying the Captain of rocky reefs off shore. Of serious concern to us are the stated reports that the crew refused to launch lifeboats when it appeared that were severely needed and the general lack of information provided to passenge3rs based on reports we have seen. More specifically, a number of guests who boarded an early segment of the cruise on January 8t, were reportedly on board the Concordia for several days without being asked to attend a lifeboat drill. If these initial reports are true, and they are often not accurate when it comes to other transportation related events, It would appear, that this accident could cause some serious financial harm to the parent company. However, Italian law is not the same as US law in matters of gross negligence and the fact that Costa is a treasured Italian name could potentially be helpful. It does not appear that very many passengers purchased their tickets for this cruise int the US.
With that said, there are some general points we would make since we have received a number of questions related to this tragedy. In a general sense, consumers need to ask themselves what sort of things are being cut when they consider a mass market ship carrying thousands of guests at a price that is, perhapos, one quarter of the cost of one of the World’s Top Ten Cruise lInes. Exactly where are the cuts being made? Food is an obvious response, but what about crew and where and how they are sourced. What about educational requirements for crew? What about the amount of crew training time that goes into crew safety trraining? Who is operating the ship in the form of senior staff? Cruise passenegers have somehow swallowed the Kool Aid – they believe that the cruise lines are a great exception to the rule that “You Get What You Pay For.” They are not.