Nautical puns aside, the disaster of the luxury cruise ship, Costa Concordia, still unfolding as this is being written, will likely spawn new maritime laws and maybe even ship design in the future. But what this does illustrate is that as customers of goods and services in this world we cannot just toss out good old common sense when it comes to personal safety. Remember that old adage, “caveat emptor” meaning “buyer beware”? Well, we can’t just presume that the “government” (or other governments) is protecting us through regulating and passing laws mandating safe products and services. We also can’t rely totally on emergency services to pull us out of danger as quickly as we might like in all situations. Whether it’s a natural disaster, buying a product or service, traveling, or air or maritime travel… sometimes we need to use our heads before we engage in such activity.
As the survivors of this cruise ship accident are telling their stories to the media we see a trend of pointing fingers at the alleged unpreparedness of the crew in directing emergency operations… to the point that the situations bring back memories the confusion depicted in the Titanic movies. As consumers of travel cruises we have gotten into some complacency that all the mistakes made on the Titanic can’t happen in this modern day and age given all the training, navigation technology, and ship design. The unfortunate part is that the cruise lines want you to view maritime travel as safe for just those reasons in order to make sales. While it’s very true that in general maritime travel is indeed a comparitively safe way to travel.. there is a certain vulnerability given certain situations that could occur.
In this case you have a ship far bigger than the Titanic hence it can carry many more passengers and crew. At the time of this accident the passenger count was near 3,200 and the crew was 1,000, making 4,200 souls on board. When we go onto ships of this size we tend to make a mental note of the number of lifeboats and that laws are in place to assure me a seat on one if necessary. Then we go on our merry way. No one gives thought to how they can reach a lifeboat when 4,000 people are in sheer panic for their lives. Does your common sense realy suggest that those 1,000 crew members are going to be trained to take charge regardless if they are the first officer or a room steward? Does your common sense really suggest that someone trained for emergencies like this is going to be in your area of the ship when problems erupt? Partially because of this and current ship design the maritime agencies have accepted that given the larger ships and higher passenger counts that the best “lifeboat” is the ship itself, rather than having everyone go through the abandon ship scenario. Fires, if they occur, can be contained far better these days, and collisions that penetrate the hull can be contained with better watertight compartments, all making for a safer ship. But there is really no defense for managing panic crowd control.
So what do you do to prepare yourself in advance of taking a cruise? A lot of it is understanding the risk. No doubt it’s minimal, but there is still a risk.. just like the risk of being hit by a truck walking out of your home. Check out the ship itself from the pictures… the number of passengers. Yes, laws say there will be enough lifeboats but what good is that if you can’t get to one, or half of them are on the other side of the ship should the ship list to the side as this one did… or if the ship is so tilted that the lifeboats are unable to lower properly. True, a person can go nuts trying to cover for every contingency but that is really not the point. Many times just having the knowledge that certain things can happen is all that is needed for being better prepared mentally to accept any emergency situation. Rather than screaming the end of the world and “We’re all going to die!” in a panic and waiting for someone to tell you where to go you might be able to look around your immediate situation and focus on what is happening. We are used to thinking that a ship will bob around and provide enough time for people to get to the lifeboats, and in fact the maritime people generally accept that time would average about 30 minutes. But does your common sense really suggest that 4,000 panic passengers are going to leave a ship in 30 minutes when it’s looking like it will turn over more like the fictional Poseidon movie than the Titanic movie? There’s no need to live in constant fear of doing things but having a common sense approach to situations can help you to survive them.
My whole point here is to be aware that when situations occur that you not always rely on things being safe, or that someone else will be there to get you out of a jam. Just as you need to be aware when buying products that no matter how much the government might pass laws to make things safe… there is still a risk.