The Costa Concordia disaster provided a disturbing insight into the unsafe operations of the cruise lines. Before the Concordia capsized, the cruise industry did not even have a requirement that cruise ships conduct a muster drill before the passengers set sail. There were no restrictions to the bridge. The on board girlfriend of infamous Captain Schettino was reportedly in the bridge after the Concordia hit the rocks. And there was widespread confusion from the senior officers in the bridge all the way down to the crew members at the life boats.
Can you imagine flying on an American Airlines 757 where the stewardess doesn’t bother to instruct passengers on evacuation and emergency procedures before take-off and the captain’s girlfriend hangs out in the cockpit?
The image of panic and the ensuing death of both passengers and crew aboard the Concordia threatened to sink the cruise industry’s idyllic image of fun, family vacations on the high seas. In response, the cruise industry – lead by the Cruise Line International Association ("CLIA") – devised a public relations scheme to create the image that an "independent" panel of experts was objectively scrutinizing the situation and arriving at proposals to make cruising safer.
The reality, however, was that the so-called "independent" experts were really paid consultants for the cruise lines and were hired more for public relation reasons than to really analyze the obvious weaknesses in the cruise industry’s procedures.
But with every new safety recommendations proposed throughout 2012, the travel agents and cruise specialists united for a collective "hurrah!" to ensure the public that cruising was safer than ever before. Leading the PR campaign was the popular on line cruise community Cruise Critic, owned by Expedia / TripAdvisor, which like a loyal cheerleader applauded everything the cruise industry announced.
Even more disappointing was the unabashed cheer-leading by USA TODAY’s Cruise Log which, although owned and operated by a major newspaper, might as well be a part of the cruise industry’s PR committee. Like Cruise Critic, Cruise Log was all-too-quick to publish whatever CLIA wanted reported in the news as the Gospel Cruise Truth.
Lacking in the Cruise Critic / Cruise Log discourse was any critical analysis by experienced and truly objective maritime experts about what the cruise industry was proposing. Neither Cruise Critic nor Cruise Log offered a single criticism, or dissenting view, regarding the post-Concordia safety recommendations. No one mentioned the fact that there was no consequence if any of the recommendations the cruise industry was proposing were ignored by a cruise line.
The recommendations remain just that – recommendations – with no governing body to impose fines or sentences if they are not followed.
We here at Cruise Law News voiced our reservations throughout the year about some of these proposals, starting with the dubious and laughable "independent" nature of the so-called experts. We pointed out specific shortcomings of the ten point safety recommendations which you can read here, here and here.
With the Costa Concordia one-year anniversary less than a week away, the cruise industry is again gearing up its PR campaign to try and convince the public that it has made great strides in ensuring that a cruise vacation on the high seas is safe and sound. Cruise Log just published a puff piece extolling CLIA’s 10 safety recommendations, followed by an almost identical article published today by Cruise Critic which might as well have been written by publicists hired by CLIA and Expedia to encourage the public to cruise.
Ultimately, cheer-leading like this does more harm than good. Media and internet companies like Cruise Log and Cruise Critic are selfishly short-sighted in their unrestrained support and promotion of the cruise industry. As matters now stand there is no oversight of the foreign-flagged cruise ships and foreign-incorporated cruise companies. The cruising public remains at risk. The public needs fewer cheerleaders and more watchdogs.
Instead of an independent media watching over the cruise business and a community of independent thinkers with a healthy degree of skepticism, cruising is dominated by spineless journalists and a flock of sheep ready to follow the cruise lines over the next cliff.