In Concordia’s Wake, Other Cruise Lines Rush to Reassure

by on February 12th, 2015
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COMMENTARY | Nearly two weeks after the Costa Concordia tragedy off the coast of Tuscany, the story still garners daily headlines around the world. And it no doubt will for quite some time. In addition to the ongoing recovery efforts, coverage is now turning to the nascent legal wrangling surrounding the shipwreck. As a former practicing attorney who once represented the world’s largest marine insurer — Lloyds of London — I can say with certainty that we will be reading about Concordia litigation for years. And, there will also be plenty that we never read about. Such is the stuff of legal settlements. Concordia’s story is still unfolding, with varying degrees of damage control leading the way. The Cruise Lines International Association, the industry’s largest trade association, has been working overtime since the accident providing “talking points” to member lines and cruise-selling agents. And, in the last few days, cruise executives from Celebrity Cruises and Norwegian Cruise Lines sent out email blasts regarding the safety of their respective lines.

In his January 23rd email, Celebrity Cruises President and CEO Dan Hanrahan professed that he was conflicted about speaking out on his own lines’ safety record. (And, I for one found the email in pretty bad taste.) “[T]he concerns that have been raised about the safety of cruise ships compelled me to take the opportunity to share what an intense focus we have always placed on safety, and how rigorously we put that focus into practice every day,” said Hanrahan. “[Y]ou also may be interested to know that the leader of Celebrity Cruises’ Captains is a highly experienced former officer in the U.S. Coast Guard, Greg Purdy. As the head of our Marine Operations Department, Greg’s highest priority is to guide and monitor the safety of our fleet. His own experience at sea, including serving as Captain of a Coast Guard vessel, combined with his depth of knowledge of cruise ship safety, ensures that he and the entire Celebrity Marine team continue to build on our strong safety culture,” he added.

In the same vein, Norwegian Cruise Lines’ CEO Kevin Sheehan today communicated that his line’s captains “are experienced seafarers with an average of 33 years at sea. All of our Captains come up through the ranks progressing from Second Officer to First Officer and then Chief Officer up to Staff Captain before they can become Captains. On average, it takes at least 15 years for a Captain to be promoted into that role. We further ensure that our Captains regularly undergo rigorous simulation training on navigation and bridge operations,” said Sheehan.

Of course, in touting the experience of their own captains, the clear message from the competing lines is that the Costa Concordia’s captain Francesco Schettino’s own credentials fell short. That may be. But, could even the most skilled captain (a Sully Sullenberger of the high seas, if you will) have prevented the pandemonium that results from a listing ship filled with thousands of hapless passengers?

Let’s hope we never find out.

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