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Are cruises safe?

Costa Concordia lies offshore Giglio, Italy
Costa Concordia lies offshore Giglio, Italy
(Photo by Tullio M. Puglia/Getty Images)

As everyone should know by now, the Costa Concordia struck some rocks off the coast of Giglio, Italy on January 13, 2012 and now lies on its side just offshore. The Discovery Channel ran a program entitled "Cruise Ship Disaster: Inside The Concordia" last night. In light of this program and the accident itself, this article looks at the safety of modern cruise ships.

The Concordia accident is the worst major cruise line accident since the sinking of the Titanic in 1912, in terms of loss of life. There are 17 people confirmed dead, and 15 more missing and presumed dead. The Discovery Channel program theorized that if the wind were blowing the other direction, the Concordia would have blown out to sea and sank in 300+ feet of water and the loss of life would have been much larger.

Since 1980, there have been very few incidents. In 1980, the Holland America Line Prinsendam caught fire and sank off the coast of Alaska. Everyone was safely evacuated and rescued from the ship. In 2007, the Sea Diamond (from the Greek line Louis Hellenic Cruises) struck rocks off the coast of Santorini and eventually sunk. Initially, everyone was thought to have escaped safely, but 2 passengers were missing and never found.

In the meantime, millions of cruise passengers have sailed on hundreds of cruise ships safely in oceans all around the world. In terms of passenger miles, this make cruising one of the safest ways to travel. In the case of both the Costa Concordia, and the Sea Diamond, human error is to blame for the ship hitting the rocks off the coasts. In the case of the Concordia, the passengers had not taken part in a safety drill prior to sailing, as all that is required by international marine law is to have such a drill within 24 hours of sailing. There was much panic and confusion during the evacuation of the Concordia, which took much longer than the proscribed 30 minutes. As a result, the Cruise Lines International Association (CLIA) has mandated that all member cruise lines have such drils prior to departure from port. They have issued a number of new safety rules.

While both the Sea Diamond and Concordia accidents were avoidable, cruises are still one of the best and safest vacation options available. I have personally been on 13 cruises, and will not hesitate to go on more of them.


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