Cruise Ships: The Deadliest Form of Public Transportation?

NCL Norway Cruise Ship ExplosionSince the Costa Concordia disaster, the cruise lines' PR departments have been working overtime trying to convince the public that cruising is safe. I have mentioned the cruise industry's talking points in a prior article "Six Lies the Cruise Lines Will Tell You after the Costa Concordia Crash."

One of the bigger cruise whoppers is the notion that the cruise industry has the best safety record compared with other forms of passenger transportation.  Just last week, the cruise lines' trade organization, the Cruise Line International Association (CLIA), issued a press release stating that cruise ships deaths are "extremely rare."  The press release quotes CLIA President Christine Duffy, who credibility was recently called into question at a U.S. Senate hearing on cruise ship safety.  

Ms. Duffy cites a report by a consulting firm, GP Wild International, Inc., which represents that in the 10 years before the Concordia disaster, there were 28 deaths on cruise ships out of 223 million passengers and crew who sailed in the past decade. 

GP Wild states that "average fatalities between 2006 and 2011 are 0.16 per one million passengers . . . this compares with 0.3 per one million passengers for the airline industry."  GP Wild does not cite a reference for these statistics, but let's assume that they are true.

Carnival Ecstasy Cruise Ship - Cruise FireSo is the cruise industry saying that you are twice as likely to die on an airplane than a cruise ship? 

Let's take a look at this claim.  Ms. Duffy characterizes GP Wild as "an independent source of analysis and data on the cruise industry."

That's hardly true.   GP Wild is not "independent."  It's clients are Carnival and Royal Caribbean (the cruise industry's largest cruise lines comprising 75% of the cruise market) as well as Radisson, Silversea and Star Cruises.

GP Wild's methodology intentionally excludes most cruise ship deaths.  It counted dead cruisers only if they were killed in an "operational casualty," such as collisions, fires, groundings or sinkings. But this limited definition does not include common situations like over-boards (170 in the last 10 years) like this case, or deaths due to norovirus like this case, or this case, or deaths caused by Legionnaires' Disease like this case, or due to shipboard medical malpractice like this case or this case, or fatalities due to rough weather and poor seamanship like this case, or cruise ship murders like this case, or this case, or this case, or deaths due to dangerous shipboard conditions like this case, or or deaths due to excursion mishaps like this case or this case, or fatalities due excessive alcohol like this case or this case.

It seems strange to to prepare a list of cruise deaths and exclude most of the dead people.

The problem with cruise death statistics is that there is no central cruise database which the public can access. The International Maritime Organizational (IMO) / flag state reporting systems are inconsistent and spotty.  There is no consequence when the cruise line and/or flag state don't report a death.  Even if the cruise line reports the fatality, the flag state does not have to report the incident to the IMO.  Like most UN agencies, the IMO is toothless. It  cannot compel a flag state to release casualties reports, assuming they decide to prepare one.  And flag states like Panama and the Bahamas Princess Cruises Star Princess Fireconduct amateurish reports which are designed to protect their cruise line customers.

Take, for example, an earlier deadly Costa cruise incident.  In 2010, the Costa Europa recklessly smashed into a pier in Alexandria, Egypt, killing three crew members and seriously injuring four more. The incident was published in newspapers in the Egyptian and British press. I blogged about it here, but otherwise there was no media coverage in the U.S.

After the Concordia capsized, many reporters here in the U.S. and in Europe, who were researching Costa's safety record, contacted me and asked for a copy of the maritime accident report regarding the Europa.

Of course I did not have a copy.  The point is no one had a copy of the casualty report.  The flag state, Italy, investigated the deaths but did not bother to send a copy of the report to the IMO.  Italy responded to inquiries from reporters  by stating that the report was "strictly confidential."

Even if the IMO obtained a report, it is unlikely it would share a copy with the family of the dead crew members or reporters.  The IMO does not release casualty reports to the public.  The flag states don't either.  And neither do the cruise lines which consider their reports regarding dead passengers to be the "confidential and privileged" property of the cruise line. 

The GP Wild report references the Europa incident, but there are no reports publicly available to discuss the factual findings and the probable cause of the incident. 

Contrast this with the strict and vigorous procedures of the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) which overseas the U.S. aviation industry.  TheAmerican Airlines Safety Record FAA data is accurate and public in nature where the cruise data is inaccurate and secret in nature.

U.S. commercial airlines have enjoyed a remarkably safer record over the past decade than the cruise industry. By all verifiable statistical data, travel by U.S. commercial airplane is much safer than traveling by cruise ship.

The U.S. air carriers transport around 750 million people a year. That's several times more than all cruise passengers and crew members over the last decade. There were no deaths on U.S. commercial carriers in 2007 and 2008 or in 2010.    

Unlike the secretive cruise industry, U.S. airplane manufacturers (like Boeing) and U.S. airline companies keep meticulous records regarding accidents and fatalities.  They release this information to the public. They are transparent.  No other form of public transportation is as carefully scrutinized, thoroughly investigated and closely monitored by outside U.S. agencies as commercial aviation. Foreign flagged cruise lines, on the other hand, incorporated in Africa and Central America, have no equivalent as the FAA.  They can bamboozle the United Nation's IMO without consequence.  Cruise lines claim that they don't keep records of fatalities and if they do, they are uniformly unwilling to share them even with the families of the dead.

Statistics don't always tell the full story of course.  Cruising is also the only place where you can be killed and your loved ones will have no legal recourse against the cruise line pursuant to the Death On The High Seas Act.

So let's get back to the cruise lines' claim that cruising is the safest means of public transportation today.  

Its not true.       

If you add the 32 dead and presumed dead from the Costa Concordia disaster to the cruise industry's reported number of dead passengers and crew - compared to flying on an U.S. air carrier - cruise ships may well be the deadliest Costa Concordia Muster - Cruise Shipform of public transportation.  

Think cruising is safe?  You may be more likely to die during a vacation cruise or working with Carnival or Royal Caribbean than flying on Delta or American Airlines.      

 

Photos, top to bottom:

NCL's Norway Explodes at Port of Miami

Carnival's Ecstasy Catches on Fire Off Miami Beach

Princess Cruises' Star Princess Ignites Off Jamaica

Costa Concordia Confusion in Giglio, Italy

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Comments (2) Read through and enter the discussion with the form at the end
Jim Walker - March 25, 2012 10:02 PM

There is even more loss of life on cruise ships / ferries around the world.

My article addresses just the U.S./C.L.I.A. cruise ships sailing around the world versus U.S. commercial aviation flying around the world.

I am not writing about air carriers from Somalia, Uganda or Russia which crash regularly. Nor am I writing about cruise ships from Egypt, Zanzibar and the Philippines which seem to sink or catch on fire routinely.

Paul Horhner - March 26, 2012 8:16 AM

Reporting cruise deaths and fires/sinkings/crashes etc. to Liberia, Panama etc. is a joke.

Cruise ships operated by cruise lines based in the US should fall under the NTSB's jurisdiction. The American public should be able to read objective reports regarding fatalities involved in all forms of transportation, whether cruise ships, planes, trains, buses etc. . . .

Will Carnival, Italy or the IMO ever let the public read the reports of the Costa ship when they are done? Can the US Coast Guard prepare a report because 2 american people died in the wreck?

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