Cruises – Full Disclosure?

The current problems with the engine fire on the Costa Allegra do not appear to have any connection with the sinking of the Costa Concordia. I remain highly dubious about the management of Costa (and, therefore, of its parent company Carnival) but it does seem to be an unfortunate coincidence and something that could happen to even the best cruise line.

However, the incident does raise a matter of concern and one we recently mentioned in Inside Traveller.

The ship was sailing through an area where pirate attacks are common. Like other cruise lines, Costa had taken the precaution of protecting the vessel with a group of Italian marines.

The idea of sitting on a deck in the sun and relaxing is very appealing – but how relaxed would you feel if you knew the cruise line had armed guards to protect their guests?

The coast off Somalia is not the only area where cruise companies have to sail with a detachment of armed guards. Cruises from the Gulf ports – which are now being heavily promoted – also carry guards and have to pay heavy additional insurance premiums due to the extra risk.

But do the cruise companies tell their passengers about this?

Many would know about the risks of Somalian piracy but the risks for vessels sailing from Dubai and Oman are much less publicised.

It would be interesting if an American passenger were to take action against a cruise line for selling a cruise in an area where they had to use armed guards without informing their passengers.

Personally, I go on holiday to rest and I can find plenty of places in the world where I can do that without armed guards to guarantee my safety.

Carnival and its employees

The grounding of the Costa Concordia might just be a turning-point in improving standards in the cruise industry. I am certainly not alone in having had worries about the way the business has developed at enormous speed with very little regulation to control it. Safety standards, employment rights and consumer protection are just some of the areas of concern. Just think of the way that airlines are regulated and then look at the cruise business – the difference is alarming. If attention can be focused on some of these issues then, maybe, some good will come out of a horrible event.

Carnival did themselves no good at all by “generously” offering all passengers on the cruise a refund and a 30% discount off their next cruise. Quite rightly, this was described as a joke and an insult by passengers. We do not really need to worry about the passengers though. There are enough sharp lawyers acting on the case for some very substantial pay-outs to be made in the end. This will prove a very nasty loss indeed for the ship’s insurers.

But what about the crew?

The ship’s officers, who are employees of Costa, will presumably be redeployed to other vessels but the majority of the crew (waiters, sailors and entertainers) would have been employed through agencies. A group of Indonesian waiters have just been flown back home and were reluctant to talk about their experience but said no one had mentioned any compensation. So, they have lost their possessions and their jobs without notice, been flown home and, because they do not want to upset their agency, they dare not complain.

They suffered just as much trauma as the passengers but will they have sharp lawyers acting for them? Let’s hope so. 


Carnival’s “comprehensive safety audit”

When a company suffers a serious accident such as the one that happened to the Costa Concordia, it is normal for them to carry out a detailed study of safety standards in the rest of their business to reassure both themselves and their customers that all is well. Carnival have announced they will be carrying out a comprehensive review of safety across all their brands. This will be led by Captain John Humm, a retired US naval captain who is currently the group’s senior vice president in charge of maritime policy and compliance. In other words, the person who had overall responsibility for ensuring all the brands of the group operated to the best standards will now carry out a review to see why one of them might not have been operating to the best standard.

Of course, there will be other, public enquiries into the specifics of what went wrong with the Costa Concordia but if Carnival want to convince the travelling public that all their brands operate to the highest standards of safety, they need to get an outside report from respected experts. Having one department produce a report on its own failings is not going to wash.

Cruise bookings “only very slightly down”

That is what Thomas Cook say in the wake of the Costa Concordia accident. Cook are Britain’s biggest retailers of cruises so they do have a vested interest in keeping bookings buoyant – especially in view of their own parlous financial situation. Interestingly, they make no reference to bookings for Costa cruises.

Shares in Carnival (the parent of Costa and many other brands including Cunard and P&O) went down in value by 20% after the accident but they have recovered a couple of a percent since then. That was based on the calculation of the costs of having the Concordia out of service. If there were to be any lasting reputational damage to the Costa brand or, worse, the whole group, then the position would be much more serious.

So far, the company has avoided this.  “Captain Coward” has been charged by the editors of the tabloid press and it just remains for the Courts to rubber-stamp their decision. Or so Carnival must hope.

But some serious questions remain.

All the “evidence” has been very one-sided so far. It is quite possible that the Captain was not completely to blame. And, if he was so bad, how come Costa had put him in such a senior position? There is already a claim that he went too close to shore some months ago and the company took no action. If this was a case of deliberately taking risks, it is most unlikely it was the first time the Captain had done something unwise. What else don’t we know?

It is very much in Carnival’s interests for this to be an open-and-shut case. Italian justice might be slow but we must also hope it is painstaking. There is a great deal more to this accident than has come out so far.