New CLIA Lifeboat Training Policy Insufficient to Prepare for the Next Cruise Disaster

The cruise industry trade organization, Cruise Lines International Association (CLIA), announced with great fanfare a new lifeboat training policy. This is a result of what CLIA is calling the cruise industry's "operational safety review" after the Costa Concordia disaster. 

Every six months, the CLIA cruise ships will conduct lifeboat drills.  The lifeboats will be lowered into the water either empty or with only a skeleton crew (probably one or two crew members) necessary to operate the life boat. 

The lifeboat itself will otherwise be empty. As USA TODAY explains:

Muster Station  - Lifeboat Chaos"The training will involve lowering a lifeboat into the water, filling it to capacity with crew members and then maneuvering it in the water to familiarize the crew to lifeboat operations. The crew will not practice lowering a fully loaded lifeboat."

The new policy is suppose ensure the public that the crew knows how to safely lower the lifeboats. But let's be clear what this "new" policy is and is not about.  

It is only after the lifeboat is lowered will it then be filled up with crew members (this is actually the same IMO policy which has existed for the past 4 years).  The lifeboat operator will then practice driving the loaded boat around for a while.  The crew will eventually get out.  Then the lifeboat will be raised back to the cruise ship empty.  

This means that there will be no training whatsoever in loading and then lowering a fully loaded lifeboat safely into the water. So when the next disaster strikes, that means that there is a 100% certainty that whoever is lowering your life boat has never practiced it while it is loaded.

It is hard to understand why the emphasis in the "new policy" is practicing driving the lifeboats around. Watch the Royal Caribbean video below of life boats from the Serenade of the Seas driving around and around. The video has wonderful music.  Its a beautiful day in Pointe Seraphine, Castries, St. Lucia.  The water is completely calm. What fun!

You will never see a real emergency in pleasant conditions like this. The last person overboard from the Serenade of the Seas occurred last week (largely ignored by the U.S. press and Royal Caribbean is staying mum).  A crew member went overboard in the Adriatic early in the morning in high seas with winds gusting up to 100 kilometers. The ship didn't even try and lower a lifeboat in those conditions. 

The problem with the Costa Concordia disaster was that the captain delayed ordering the passengers off the ship until the cruise ship listed to an angle where it was impossible to lower the lifeboat. There was chaos trying to round up and organize over 3,000 passenger into their designated muster stations, especially because there was no muster drill in the first place.

The "new" CLIA lifeboat drills don't mention crowd control issues, language issues or anything that might reasonably address the deadly confusion which took place on the Concordia.

There are no recommendations for simulation drills or intense training, while encountering a wide variety of emergencies and diverse simulated weather conditions.

Think if a cruise ship as large as the Oasis or Allure of the Seas needs to be evacuated, The Oasis has 18 lifeboats which can carry 370 passengers in each one. Getting that many people into the lifeboat in a timely manner and then lowering the boat safely into the water takes practice - something the "new" CLIA policy guarantees won't ever happen.

The truth of the matter is that some cruise lines have essentially discontinued lifeboats drills (actually lowering the lifeboats) because of the numerous injuries and some deaths during the drills. 10 years ago Royal Caribbean experienced a disastrous accident where numerous crew members sustained serious injuries.

There is a saying that most lifeboats injure or kill more passengers and crew than save lives.  Lifeboats can fall suddenly, get caught on the side of the ship or suffer malfunctions or failure of the cables and hardware.  Consider the incident in the video at the bottom which, although not involving a cruise ship, is similar to others incidents where cruse employees were injured.

    

 

 

 

 Photo Credit:  EPA via Telegraph 

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

Cruise Industry's New Safety Initiatives - Too Little, Too Late?

The cruise industry's trade group, Cruise Line International Association (CLIA), announced two new safety initiatives last week. I was rather amazed when I read what the new proposals involved.

The first policy is what is being called the "Nationality of Passengers" policy. This policy states that each passenger's nationality should be documented for use by search and rescue personnel in case of an emergency evacuation. 

It surprises me that cruise lines don't already do this.  Airlines have kept such international manifests with passenger nationalities listed for decades.

CLIA claims that this is an effort to enhance passenger safety on board cruise liners. I'm not sure how listing passenger's nationalities leads to safety at all. Perhaps the information helps to Cota Concordia Cruise Ship - Muster Drillidentify the dead after disaster strikes.

A second safety procedure touted by CLIA is a list set of 12 "universal" instructions that should be given to passengers at muster drills.  These include the most basis instructions to passengers to prepare them for an abandon ship situation after a cruise ship fire or collision.

Cruise Critic summarized these instructions in a recent article as follows:

  • When and how to don a lifejacket;
  • Description of emergency signals and appropriate responses in the event of an emergency;
  • Location of lifejackets;
  • Where to muster when the emergency signal is sounded;
  • Method of accounting for passenger attendance at musters both for training and in the event of an actual emergency;
  • How information will be provided in an emergency;
  • What to expect if the Captain orders an evacuation of the ship;
  • What additional safety information is available;
  • Instructions on whether passengers should return to cabins prior to mustering, including specifics regarding medication, clothing and lifejackets;
  • Description of key safety systems and features;
  • Emergency routing systems and recognizing emergency exits; and
  • Who to seek out for additional information.

When I first read this proposal, I couldn't believe that the cruise industry didn't already have an established set of muster station / life vest / life boat instructions.  It's 2012, over 100 years since the Titanic sank!  No wonder there was such deadly confusion on the Concordia.

You may recall that back in April, CLIA announced some other new proposals including limiting visits to the bridge during cruises. I called this the "no bimbos in the bridge" policy because Captain Schettino's girlfriend was reportedly in the bridge after the Concordia hit the rocks.

Is this an industry so far behind the times that it is only now recommending standard muster drill instructions, listing passenger nationalities, and keeping the captain's girlfriends out of the bridge during disasters? 

 

Photo: Carlos Carballa / EFE 

Cruise Industry's New Safety Drill Policy - Too Little, Too Late

Swamped from a tide of bad publicity following the Costa Concordia disaster, the cruise industry today announced a change to its safety drill policy.  The new policy?  Hold your breath:

All cruise lines will begin to provide a safety briefing to the passengers before the vessel sets sail. 

That's it?  Why wasn't this the law a hundred years ago, after the Titanic sank?

This should convince even the most hard core cruise fan that there is something seriously amiss Costa Concordia Cruise Chaosin the world of cruising when almost a month after the Concordia disaster, the cruise lines have finally proposed such a basic safety policy.

This should also reveal how lax the policies are under the International Maritime Organization ("IMO").  The IMO rules (suggestions I say) suggest that cruise ships can wait up to 24 hours after passengers embark to hold a safety briefing.  It's difficult to justify such an unsafe policy which undoubtedly caused or contributed to deaths of some of the Concordia passengers.  But what can you expect from an United Nations organization?  

The cruise industry has announced this simple common-sense policy with great fanfare.  USA Today's pro-cruise blog CruiseBlog quotes a cruise agent praising the new policy which was revealed in a joint statement by the Cruise Lines International Association, the European Cruise Council and the UK"s  Passenger Shipping Association. 

Notwithstanding the new cruise line voluntary policy, the IMO "rules" still permit waiting until 24 hours to have a muster drill.  And if the cruise lines don't follow their own voluntary agreement?  There is no consequence. 

Just what the public needs, a trust-us promise from an unregulated cruise industry which should not be trusted.