17 January 2012
I’m incredibly saddened by what’s been happening with the Costa Concordia, and, as a former cruise ship crew member, I thought I’d write some points from that perspective.
First, I’m shocked that the captain left the ship. I’m more shocked that the staff captain did also; the staff captain is responsible for crew discipline and should have been assisting with rescue efforts. Eight people waiting near muster stations didn’t need to die.
I want to give a personal shout-out of appreciation to Manrico Giampedroni, the ship’s purser, who did what the bosses should have done and tried to, you know, rescue people. He nearly lost his life doing so, and he broke a leg and spent 36 hours waiting for rescue.
I’m also horrified for the South Korean couple on their honeymoon who were stuck inside their cabin for 24 hours. Can you imagine starting off your married life that way?
Here’s a survivor account on cruisecritic, about copies and swimming (and how horribly the US Embassy treated stranded American passengers), no lifeboat drop signal given to crew, and summation of their trip prior to the crash.
When the family returned home, they did an interview with Australian news here.
What to consider for future cruises:
1) I’d strongly suggest you only go on cruises where the safety drills are done first thing (they are required to do them within 24 hours, but in this case, the crash was only a few hours into the cruise). If they’re not and there’s some reason you want to be on that cruise, then I suggest that you not only go to look where your muster station is, you get to know 2-3 routes to it before sailing in case you need to know them. You look at the safety card in airline pockets and look where your nearest exit is, right? Same thing.
2) Whenever practical, carry at least copies of documentation with you. Obviously, having these in a water-tight pouch is ideal. Come to think of it, a flash drive wouldn’t hurt, either. A survivor points out that copies may not help if you have to swim. Point, but if you’re in the habit of a security wallet on your person, they might if they’re in a water-tight pouch. Worst case, upload them to some trusted site (iCloud, Dropbox) so you can print them later.
3) If you sense that anything has happened, as many of the people onboard did, make sure you have your passport, cash, and so forth on you in case you need to bail. Sure, you may not get time to get these things, but it’s never a bad idea to have them ready in case you have the opportunity to grab them. Also, when it’s cold, like it was, change into warmer clothes, even if it’s just adding a couple of extra layers. Make sure you don’t wear anything that would interfere unduly with swimming, though.
4) If you’re in a position to bail, don’t jump into the ocean without a) a floatation device, b) warm water, and c) a clear and safe route down. Hypothermia is no joke and you can die in minutes. The water in this particular case was cold enough to be lethal. Learn the 50-50 rule.
Also, most cruise ships are really, really tall. Most jumps would be 6-10 stories; unless you’re an experienced high diver, it’s really not safe (even then, it’s still not safe). I have climbed those ladders from the water line to the lifeboat deck on multiple ships. You don’t want to do it the other way; it’s a good way to drown. It’s also fairly well known that sharks follow cruise ships for castoff food, though probably this is less true now that cruise lines have more modern policies about waste management. As if that weren’t enough, the suction created by a ship that’s sinking is enough to pull you down with it.
5) Jim Keller has some good points about ship registry. I’d add that ships of Caribbean registry that regularly sail to US ports are subject to US Coast Guard regulations and are generally safer than those Caribbean ships that do not. In particular, ships that sail out of south Florida are well-trained.