Muster Madness - "Carnival Still in Denial on Passenger Safety"

This week I ran across a really interesting article by Karen Wormald who is an award-winning business writer and author, as well as a contributing editor to PC Solutions.  Her work has appeared in many publications including, interesting enough, Cruise Travel. 

Ms. Wormald had some very critical observations about the muster drills during a Carnival cruise she went on after the Costa Concordia disaster.  Her article is below and is worth reading a time or two. The intriguing thing about Ms. Wormald is that, certainly compared to me, she is a fan of cruising and is sympathetic of the cruise lines which have faced bad press this year, writing:

Karen Wormald" . . . in reality, cruising is FAR safer than virtually any land-based vacation. But every time there’s an incident on a ship, the media goes into a frenzy. People get norovirus and food poisoning every day in a LOT of places we never hear about.

Costa Concordia certainly deserved all the bad press it got, but something like 13 million Americans cruise every year and experience only a tiny fraction of the crime and injury experienced by people on land . . . "   

I don't agree with Ms. Wormald about cruise safety in general, particularly norovirus (which is primarily caused by contaminated food and water on cruise ships), but that's not the point.

Read her article about the life boat drill aboard the Carnival Glory, Carnival Still in Denial on Passenger Safety, and ask yourself whether Carnival is ready for the next Concordia type of disaster? Ms. Wormald was nice enough to let me re-print her article:   

Carnival Still in Denial on Passenger Safety

"After Costa Concordia capsized in January, exposing slipshod safety practices that contributed to 32 fatalities, you’d think Costa’s parent, Carnival Corp., would be fanatical about safety now. Especially on Carnival line ships, whose Italian captains must overcome the shame of Concordia’s incompetent master, Francesco Schettino.

I just spent 6 days on Carnival Glory, and saw first-hand Carnival’s current safety measures.

My cabin TV welcomed me with a safety video on endless loop, with Captain [Italian Name] delivering the intro and closing. I must have heard a dozen times to look for crew members wearing green fluorescent caps in an emergency.

Glory was scheduled to sail at 5 p.m., with the lifeboat drill at 4:30 on Deck 4.

At 4:20, on Deck 8 I saw a crewman directing able-bodied passengers to elevators down to Deck 4 — it’s stairs-only in any emergency.

On Deck 4, this sign left the lifeboats’ exact location a mystery  . . .

Costa Concordia - Carnival Cruise Muster Drill

Part of the sign (below in yellow) was reproduced on walls throughout the ship, like it means anything . . .

Somebody finally opened the “Emergency Exit Only” door (forbidden for passengers), revealing the “secret” outer lifeboat deck.

This 952-ft. ship was divided into only 8 muster stations, 4 on each side, leaving wide open expanses with no signs (screw the near-sighted). Nobody knew where to go. At 4:40, a few young crewmen in orange vests (not green caps) began straggling in and herding us.

Costa Concordia - Carnival Cruise Muster DrillEach muster station was assigned multiple lifeboats, whose numbers were read to us later as an afterthought — as if anybody would remember them.

Now, let’s do the math: Glory holds 2,974 passengers and 1,150 crew, so each muster station must accommodate about 372 passengers and 144 crew (if they want to survive), or 516 souls in all.

I saw 2 crewmen at my station to handle that mob.

The drill/lecture was conducted from the bridge not by the captain, but by a young English-speaker. (Nor did the captain verbally preside over the 3 crew drills they presumably had during that voyage. I assume his Italian accent is considered a problem.)

On any other ship, an emergency signal consists of 7 short blasts followed by one long blast of the ship’s whistle.

Glory’s was 5 short, a long pause, then one more short, then one long.

The bridge voice kept saying drill attendance and our complete silence were mandatory. Then he’d go silent for so long, it seemed he’d forgotten us. In the meantime, we were just standing in silence, being told nothing on Deck 4.

Later I learned the protracted silences weren’t due to any sweep of the ship to get all passengers to the drill; I met a couple who stayed in their cabin. Nor was roll taken at muster stations to verify our presence. I’ve seen both procedures on other ships.

We didn’t wear life jackets, nor did anyone learn how to don and tie one because the crewman who demonstrated was standing in a dark area in the bow and made no effort to be seen. Lockers of life jackets lined the deck (locked, presumably, and I imagine rotsa ruck finding anybody with a key), but we were told to return to our cabins for our jackets in a pinch — because that worked so well for the obedient Concordia passengers whose corpses were found underwater in theirs.

The drill took 45 minutes, delayed sailing, and taught anybody NOTHING. If I hadn’t attended good drills on other ships, I’d have been irate.

Many passengers on Glory were taking their first cruise, and thank God it was uneventful, because if you don’t know how to save yourself on a Carnival ship, you’re doomed to a watery grave."  

Carnival's response:

Karen actually elicited a response from Carnival's CEO (something I have never received in my last thousand blogs) which you can read at this link

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Comments (6) Read through and enter the discussion with the form at the end
Nathan Bowers - August 8, 2012 8:12 PM

Interesting article about the Norovirus being caused by bad food and bad water. Every norovirus outbreak I've seen on my 28 + cruises has been because passengers brought it onboard with them. Thereby contaminating the ship and anything they touch. As far as life boat drills, my hats off to the crew for trying to get a bunch of inebriated self entitled individuals to grow up for 15 minutes and shut up. Don't know how many times I've stood on the deck with other passengers drinking, talking, shouting etc so why don't some of these folks take personal responsibility for their safety and shut up? As for the able bodied comment some people may appear able bodied but aren't. My wife is an example she's legally blind and can't do the stairs for obvious reasons. Maybe if some people stopped and thought about it for a bit that not all handicaps are physical or require a wheelchair. Nevermind the fact that a wheelchair can't fight the crowds in the elevators and on the stairs even.

Maybe if the cruise line was uniform in enforcing muster station procedures and passengers equally respected other passengers cruising would be a fun thing to do.

Karen Wormald - August 9, 2012 12:04 PM

Jim, given your profession, it's understandable you'd want to promote the fallacy that cruising is life-threatening. I'm a veteran of 37 cruises (23 on the SS Norway - surely you're familiar with that protracted legal saga and longstanding, unconscionable behavior by her owners that led to crew deaths and the ship's ultimate demise), and I've sailed on 5 other mass-market lines.

Agreed, horrific things happen on ships. However, in many cases of illness, injury, or death, passengers themselves often bear at least some responsibility. I cite the Hagel disappearance as an example.

But I don't defend the cruise lines. I've seen more behind the scenes than a typical passenger; I was once essentially thrown to the dogs by a cruise line during discovery in an EPA investigation. They're good corporate citizens only to the extent of what they can't conceal.

However, the statistics don't lie. You're safer on almost any cruise ship than on land because so many typical hazards don't exist. Just read a newspaper. When was the last cruise ship mass shooting? How many deaths from auto accidents on ships? Fires? Bombings? Terrorist attacks? The numbers simply aren't there.

Thank you for reprinting my post. I believe Carnival is paying lip service to safety. Their response to me was absurd, and their head needs to be pulled out of the sand.

Jim Walker - August 9, 2012 2:47 PM

Thanks Karen for your thoughtful comments.

Schmedlapp - August 14, 2012 9:17 AM

Some interesting thoughts, but it seems Ms. Wormald was looking for some kind of sensationalist story and is being rather over-dramatic about a lot of things. I see an awful lot of "I assume" and "I suppose" in there and not a lot of factual info.

Let's address her complaints one by one...


"My cabin TV welcomed me with a safety video on endless loop, with Captain [Italian Name] delivering the intro and closing. I must have heard a dozen times to look for crew members wearing green fluorescent caps in an emergency."

Yes, and...? Most people need information repeated to them several times. That's not an indictment of their attention spans, it's just human nature for something most people aren't really interested in, but need to know. I don't see why this is anything worth noting.

"At 4:20, on Deck 8 I saw a crewman directing able-bodied passengers to elevators down to Deck 4 — it’s stairs-only in any emergency."

This indeed shouldn't happen. However, evacuation personnel are also instructed to accommodate guests with disabilities as best as they can, and if a passenger informs them that they can't navigate the stairs, the elevator is allowed. (If a passenger is lying, that's on their conscience.) Not all disabilities are immediately visible to the naked eye. Also, on most ships, even if the main power is knocked out, the back-up generator has enough power to keep at least one elevator in operation specifically for this purpose. Failing that, there are crewmembers trained to carry disabled guests to the lifeboats.

"On Deck 4, this sign left the lifeboats’ exact location a mystery . . ."

"Part of the sign (below in yellow) was reproduced on walls throughout the ship, like it means anything . . ."

How, exactly? It seems pretty clear to me...stations A, C, E and G are to the right. These are standard-order emergency signs that pax will see on any cruise ship, not just Carnival. They are designed to be understandable to speakers of any language, and have a minimum of text so people don't waste time trying to read them, delaying the evacuation.

"Somebody finally opened the “Emergency Exit Only” door (forbidden for passengers), revealing the “secret” outer lifeboat deck."

Who was this mysterious "somebody?" If was a fellow guest, then yes, someone is not doing their job properly. But if it was a crewmember...well, again, what's the issue?

"This 952-ft. ship was divided into only 8 muster stations, 4 on each side, leaving wide open expanses with no signs (screw the near-sighted). Nobody knew where to go. At 4:40, a few young crewmen in orange vests (not green caps) began straggling in and herding us."

Having been on the Glory, I know there are very large signs on the lifeboat deck, both overhead and posted on the walls. As to the vest/caps inconsistency, it is a fair point...Carnival needs to update their safety video.

"Now, let’s do the math: Glory holds 2,974 passengers and 1,150 crew, so each muster station must accommodate about 372 passengers and 144 crew (if they want to survive), or 516 souls in all."

Ms. Wormald seems to be forgetting about the existence of life RAFTS onboard the ship, by which the majority of the crew are evacuated. Each one typically holds 25 people, meaning, for about 1000 crew (some crew, like medical and evacuation personnel, leave via the lifeboats with the guests), there are a total of 40 rafts onboard. So the actual number of people in her station would have been much closer to 400.

"The drill/lecture was conducted from the bridge not by the captain, but by a young English-speaker. (Nor did the captain verbally preside over the 3 crew drills they presumably had during that voyage. I assume his Italian accent is considered a problem.)"

This would likely be the Cruise Director, or in rare cases the Assistant Cruise Director (if the CD is sick, etc.). Again, I fail to see why this is a problem, and as Ms. Wormald even noted, is actually a BENEFIT to the pax since they don't have to decipher instructions through a heavy accent. The Cruise Director reads the safety information from the bridge, with the captain standing nearby in case he needs to relay any further info beyond what is in the prepared script.


"On any other ship, an emergency signal consists of 7 short blasts followed by one long blast of the ship’s whistle.

Glory’s was 5 short, a long pause, then one more short, then one long."

Mistakes happen. Perhaps it was a new officer. A lot goes on behind the scenes on a ship that guests don't see...if the officer was simply inattentive or incompetent, it's very likely he was later reprimanded and/or retrained.

"The bridge voice kept saying drill attendance and our complete silence were mandatory. Then he’d go silent for so long, it seemed he’d forgotten us. In the meantime, we were just standing in silence, being told nothing on Deck 4."

Again, a lot happens behind the scenes. In a real emergency, the captain and crew must perform several procedures to assess the situation...pax could be out there for a while. Frustrating, I agree, but necessary.

"Later I learned the protracted silences weren’t due to any sweep of the ship to get all passengers to the drill; I met a couple who stayed in their cabin. Nor was roll taken at muster stations to verify our presence. I’ve seen both procedures on other ships."

There are crew (mostly stateroom stewards) whose purpose during an emergency is to personally check every stateroom to make sure it is empty. Did the couple who 'stayed in their cabin' go to the drill and then sneak out, or hide somewhere to get out of it? I'm not accusing this particular couple of doing so, but some pax have been known to do these things. Safety is a two-way street...in an emergency, crew certainly must perform their duties well, but pax must be willing to comply.

"We didn’t wear life jackets, nor did anyone learn how to don and tie one because the crewman who demonstrated was standing in a dark area in the bow and made no effort to be seen."

This is a fair point, and I hope that crewmember is noticed and told to stand elsewhere.

"Lockers of life jackets lined the deck (locked, presumably, and I imagine rotsa ruck finding anybody with a key),"

Once again, "I imagine" this...did she ask any of the crew if they had a key? If the spare lifejacket bins WEREN'T locked, would she be OK with, say, children getting into the bin, playing around with the lifejackets and possibly throwing them overboard?

"The drill took 45 minutes, delayed sailing,"

Delayed drills happen, and they're unfortunate, but can happen for any number of reasons. Frequently, drills are pushed back simply because a large number of guests are late in boarding the ship (this is especially common on Carnival, who often insists on EXTREMELY short stays in turn-around ports to save money). Additionally, guests who dawdle or don't listen to instructions can and will make the drill last longer. Again, I am NOT blaming the guests exclusively...just saying that people tend to reflexively blame the ship and its personnel for these things unfairly.

"and taught anybody NOTHING."

Ms. Wormald was directed to her muster station, so she knows where to go in an emergency. She heard a long speech over the PA about what to do, and how to prevent an emergency, so she can't say she didn't know that, either...unless she wasn't listening. If crew aren't doing their jobs right, they should absolutely be retrained. But be reasonable, and THINK about what is going on.

Schmedlapp - August 14, 2012 9:18 AM

Forgot my disclaimer...I do NOT work for Carnival and do not represent them in any way. I just felt the need to call it as I saw it.

Charles W. Best - August 20, 2012 11:00 PM

My wife and i have traveled and taken several cruise's With Carnival cruise line's, we have yet to take one were the abandin ship drill wasn't given. I know many passengers don't like the drills but they are mandatory and they insist every one observe. I feel that it should be your own interest of what you should do and stop blameing cruise lines.

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