Last week I was away from my computer traveling in Jamaica to visit crewmembers while the story broke about the U.K.'s Maritime and Coastguard Agency detaining the MSC Cruises' Opera cruise ship for safety violations.
The incident was the type of event which I would normally and quickly write about. But by the time I returned to Miami the cruise ship had already been detained, released and back to sea.
A story today in the USA Today entitled "UK Coast Guard: Issue with Detained MSC Cruises Ship was Major" renewed my interest in the story. The article was written by Gene Sloan who hosts an excellent and very popular cruise blog called "CruiseLog," which caters to the cruise community. He reported today on the fact that the detention of the MSC Opera was no small matter. In fact, the UK's Maritime and Coastguard Agency informed USA Today that there were multiple issues that together "led to the conclusion of a major non-conformity."
In the UK, cruise ships may be detained under UK Merchant Shipping Act 1995 only when it “appears to a relevant inspector to be a dangerously unsafe ship."
USA Today reported that the MSC Opera arrived in Southampton "overladen" with concerns by safety inspectors about the cruise ship's stability and safety emergency preparedness which were in violation of the International Safety Maritime Code (an international standard for the safe management and operation of ships).
USA Today further reported that the Opera was detained after it arrived in Southampton on May 25th coming from a shipyard where it had undergone repairs after losing power in the Baltic Sea, which left it adrift for several days until it was towed back to port. "Passengers described uncomfortable conditions during the incident that included blackouts, a lack of hot food and running water, and backed-up toilets."
What is remarkable about the USA Today article is that it reported that when news of the detention first broke last week, MSC Cruises falsely told news outlets (including USA Today) that it was just "a rumor." Later in the day, after the ship had been cleared to sail, MSC "issued a short statement that appeared carefully crafted to leave the impression that there had been no issues with the vessel. The statement made no mention of the detention."
Of the over 500 blogs I have written about the cruise industry in the last year and a half, a major focus of my articles is not about the bad things that happen on cruise ships - but the extraordinary steps that the cruise industry takes to cover them up.
The fact that CruiseLog, a friend to the cruise industry by all accounts, would publish an article about this cruise ship's safety deficiencies as well as the cruise line's lack of candor is encouraging. It reflects objectivity and a clear concern for the public's safety and welfare which are often lacking in most pro-cruise publications.
It will only be when cruise fans and CLIA travel agents demand greater transparency and accountability from the cruise lines will there be improvements in the safe operation of cruise ships.
It also cannot be overlooked that the CEO and president of MSC Cruises, Richard Sasso, has been the chairman of the Cruise Lines International Association (CLIA) Marketing Committee. CLIA is the trade organization for the cruise industry which promotes the U.S. cruise lines and has the motto that it "promotes all measures that foster a safe and secure cruise environment."
Needless to say, it's disappointing that a cruise ship deemed by UK safety inspectors to be "dangerously unsafe," and whose leader is the head of marketing CLIA cruise ships, would exhibit such a lack of candor to international news outlets and to the American public.
This type of conduct perpetuates the image of the cruise industry as slick and dishonest marketers.
Additional info: What is a Cruise Ship Detention?
The MSC Opera is flagged in Panama which is suppose to make certain that the ships carrying its flag meet safety standards. But like many "flag of convenience" countries, Panama does not have a reputation of vigorously overseeing the safe operation of cruise ships and other vessels flying the flag of Panama.
Responsibility for overseeing the safety and security of cruise ships often falls, by default, to the "port states" where the cruise ship are based or countries where they call on port. Caribbean countries are largely either incompetent or indifferent to safety issues or hesitant to incur the wrath of a major cruise line.
But countries like the U.K. or the U.S., from time to time, will intervene. Agencies in port states can intervene for safety or health reasons, like was threatened in this norovirus case aboard the Balmoral cruise ship once it reached the U.K.
The U.S. Coast Guard and U.S. public health agencies like the Centers for Disease Control ("CDC") can shut cruise ships down, like when the CDC issued a "no sail' order for the noro-virus plagued Celebrity Mercury cruise ship which infected passengers for four sailings until it was finally shut down for health reasons.
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